Diabetes is a serious disease with serious consequences. If not treated properly, it can lead to heart disease and stroke, amputations, kidney failure, blindness and nerve damage.
Yet many of the millions of children and adults in America who have diabetes don’t yet know it. Why? Because the symptoms can be so subtle that people often don’t realize anything is wrong until long after damage to their bodies has already begun.
Symptoms of Diabetes
Frequent urination, extreme hunger, unusual thirst, unusual weight loss and extreme fatigue are the symptoms most often seen when type 1 diabetes develops. These symptoms can also occur with type 2 diabetes. In addition, people developing type 2 diabetes may notice blurred vision, cuts that are slow to heal, frequent infections, recurring skin, gum or bladder infections or numbness in the hands and feet. It’s important to note that many people with type 2 diabetes don’t notice any symptoms at all.
So, how do you know if you have diabetes?
There’s only one way to find out for sure: Get tested.
Who Should Get Tested
Because your risk for diabetes increases with age, everyone age 45 or older should be screened, typically during a routine health exam. But some people should be tested earlier, because they may be at higher risk. Ethnic and minority status, age, family history and weight all play a role in how high a risk you have for developing diabetes.
Also, it’s important to know that there are several kinds of diabetes with different types of risk factors. Type 1 diabetes, in which the body fails to make enough insulin for survival, typically develops during childhood or young adulthood. Currently, we do not know how to prevent it and weight does not play a role in its development. Those with a family history of diabetes are at higher risk, but type 1 often appears in people who have no family history.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body does not use the insulin it makes properly or does not make enough insulin. In short, the body cannot turn food into the energy that we need to live. This type of diabetes is the most common and is also often (though not always) associated with being overweight or obese.
Some ethnic groups are at higher risk than others for type 2 diabetes, including African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. People with a family history of diabetes and those who are over the age of 45 are also at greater risk. However, this type of diabetes is also becoming increasingly prevalent in youth, largely due to the growing problem of childhood obesity.
Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy. If a woman has had it during a previous pregnancy — or if she is overweight or obese — she is at greater risk for this condition, which typically develops around the 24th week of pregnancy and resolves after the baby is born. It’s very important to diagnose and treat gestational diabetes because it can cause serious problems for both mother and child. Having gestational diabetes during a pregnancy also increases the risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life for both the mother and child.
Prediabetes is a condition that occurs when blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough for a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. Studies have shown that taking active steps to reduce risks during prediabetes can prevent or delay the progression to type 2 diabetes later in life. Type 2 diabetes can be delayed and even prevented through lifestyle changes that include weight loss, increased physical activity and attention to eating properly.
A blood test can tell if you if you have diabetes. If you think you may be at risk, discuss getting tested with your provider.
Diabetes can and does kill. However, if properly treated, people with diabetes can enjoy long, fulfilling lives.