Diabetes: What You Don’t Know Could Hurt You
Dr. Arsalan Sheikh, chair of the Department of Medicine, Bon Secours Baltimore Hospital, is an endocrinologist who has treated many patients with diabetes. Good Choices talked with him about the condition, which affects an estimated 29 million, or 9 percent of Americans. A far greater number have pre-diabetes and they may not know they are at risk.
Q: What is diabetes?
A: Diabetes is a condition in which the body does not metabolize sugar (glucose) properly; it remains elevated in the blood. Type 1 used to be called childhood onset diabetes, but adults can also develop this. The body does not make insulin, so you must take insulin to treat it. Type 2 is more common, and is associated with being overweight and high blood pressure. The insulin the body makes doesn’t work effectively and one makes less insulin over time.
Groups at a higher risk for Type 2 include those with family members with Type 2 diabetes, certain ethnic groups: African-Americans, Latinos and Asians, and pregnant women with gestational diabetes. Lifestyle disparities – not having access to healthy foods, socioeconomic factors – also play a big part.
Q: What are the signs?
A: The number one symptom is having no symptoms. That’s why it’s so important to have your blood tested regularly at your physician’s office. People start developing symptoms when blood sugar levels get very high. You can become very thirsty, urinate often, feel very tired and can develop blurry vision.
Q: What can I do to prevent or treat diabetes?
A: You can make lifestyle changes now. Healthy eating and being active – even walking around your workplace at lunchtime – can really make a difference. A weight loss of 7 to 10% of your weight will be a huge benefit in how your insulin works and can help lower your sugar and blood pressure. Taking medications regularly and living a healthy lifestyle are the key to managing diabetes.