There isn’t a cure yet for diabetes, but a healthy lifestyle can really reduce its impact on your life. What you do every day makes the difference: eating a healthy diet, being physically active, taking medicines if prescribed, and keeping health care appointments to stay on track.
More than 30 million people in the United States have diabetes, but 1 out of 4 of them don’t know they have it.
There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes (diabetes while pregnant, which can put the pregnancy and baby at risk and lead to type 2 diabetes later).
With type 1 diabetes, your body can’t make insulin (a hormone that acts like a key to let blood sugar into cells for use as energy), so you need to take it every day. Type 1 diabetes is less common than type 2 diabetes; about 5% of the people who have diabetes have type 1. Currently, no one knows how to prevent type 1 diabetes.
Most people with diabetes—9 out of 10—have type 2 diabetes. With type 2 diabetes, your body doesn’t use insulin well and is unable to keep blood sugar at normal levels. If you have any of the risk factors below, ask your doctor if you should be tested for diabetes. The sooner you find out, the sooner you can start making healthy changes that will benefit you now and in the future.
Diabetes by the Numbers
- More than 30 million US adults have diabetes—and 1 out of 4 of them don’t know they have it.
- At least 1 out of 3 people will develop diabetes in their lifetime.
- Medical costs for people with diabetes are twice as high as for people without diabetes.
- Risk of death for adults with diabetes is 50% higher than for adults without diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes risk factors include:
- Having prediabetes (blood sugar levels that are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes).
- Being overweight.
- Being 45 years or older.
- Having a parent, brother, or sister with type 2 diabetes.
- Being physically active less than 3 times a week.
- Ever having gestational diabetes or giving birth to a baby who weighed more than 9 pounds.
Race and ethnicity also matter: African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians/Alaska Natives, Pacific Islanders, and some Asian Americans are at higher risk for type 2 diabetes.
You can lower your risk for developing type 2 diabetes by losing a small amount of weight if you’re overweight and getting regular physical activity. A small amount of weight loss means around 5% to 7% of your body weight, just 10 to 14 pounds for a 200-pound person. Regular physical activity means getting at least 150 minutes a week of brisk walking or a similar activity. That’s just 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
You’ve Been Diagnosed with Diabetes. Now What?
It’s a balancing act—food, activity, medicine, and blood sugar levels—but you can do it. Meeting with a diabetes educator is a great way to get support and guidance, including how to:
- Follow a healthy eating plan.
- Get physically active.
- Test your blood sugar.
- Give yourself insulin by syringe, pen, or pump, if needed.
- Monitor your feet, skin[134 KB], and eyes to catch problems early.
- Get diabetes supplies and store them according to package directions.
- Manage stress and deal with daily diabetes care.
Ask your doctor about diabetes self-management education and support, and to recommend a diabetes educator. You can also search the American Association of Diabetes Educators’ nationwide directory for a list of educators in your community.
Know Your ABCs
Work with your doctor to manage your diabetes ABCs, and keep a record of your numbers. Results will help determine if your treatment plan is working and you’re able to stay in your target range—for example, an A1C of 7% or less—or if adjustments need to be made. Staying on track will help lower your risk of additional health problems.
- A —the A1C test, which measures average blood sugar over 2 to 3 months.
- B —blood pressure, the force of blood flow inside blood vessels.
- C —cholesterol, a group of blood fats that affect the risk of heart attack or stroke.
- s —stop smoking or don’t start.
People with type 1 or type 2 diabetes are at higher risk for serious health complications, including:
- Heart disease and stroke: People with diabetes are twice as likely to have heart disease or a stroke as people without diabetes, and at an earlier age.
- Blindness and eye problems: Diabetic retinopathy (damage to blood vessels in the retina), cataracts (clouding of the lens), and glaucoma (increase in fluid pressure in the eye) can all result in vision loss.
- Kidney disease: High blood sugar levels can damage the kidneys over time, long before you start to feel bad.
- Amputations: This means you could lose a foot or leg. Diabetes causes damage to blood vessels and nerves, particularly in the feet, and can lead to serious, hard-to-treat infections. Amputation may be necessary to keep the infection from spreading.
But controlling your blood sugar levels can help you avoid or delay these serious health complications, and treating complications as soon as possible can help prevent them from getting worse.
Put Care on Your Calendar
Every day: stay active, eat a healthy diet, and take medication if prescribed; check feet for redness, swelling, pain, or sores.
Each health care visit (several times a year): get a blood pressure check and foot check.
Twice a year: get an A1C test and dental checkup.
Once a year: get a cholesterol test and kidney function test, visit your podiatrist (foot doctor) and eye doctor, and get a flu shot (and other vaccines as recommended by your doctor).
Living with diabetes has its ups and downs, but healthy lifestyle choices can give you more control over them. And more control means fewer health problems down the road and a better quality of life now.
November is National Diabetes Month. Here’s to managing your diabetes for a longer, healthier life.