Diabetes mellitus type 2, also called simply “type 2 diabetes,” affects nearly 10% of Americans on average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Yet type 2 diabetes is almost completely preventable. Here’s how you can avoid becoming a statistic.
WHAT IS TYPE 2 DIABETES?
The term “diabetes” refers to elevated blood sugar (glucose) levels. Diabetes takes two primary forms.
Type 1 diabetes is sometimes called “juvenile diabetes” because it is diagnosed in childhood. Type 1 diabetes affects just 5% of all people with diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the body is unable to create insulin, a hormone required to process sugars in the body. Type 1 diabetes is not curable and requires lifelong management with insulin.
Type 2 diabetes results from the body’s inability to use insulin properly. Often, type 2 diabetes arises as a result of poor diet, sedentary lifestyle or being overweight. You can manage or even reverse type 2 diabetes through lifestyle changes.
Left untreated, both types of diabetes can cause a host of other, serious physical problems, including kidney failure and blindness.
RISK FACTORS FOR TYPE 2 DIABETES
You are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes if:
- You have a parent, brother or sister with diabetes
- You are of African American, Native American, Hispanic/Latino, Alaska Native or Pacific Islander heritage
- You are overweight or obese
- You are over age 45
- You lead a sedentary (inactive) lifestyle
- You have high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol
- Your blood glucose test revealed an A1C level of 5.7 or higher
- You have acanthosis nigricans (a dark, velvety skin rash of the armpits or neck that can occur in African Americans)
- You’ve ever had gestational diabetes
- You’ve ever given birth to a baby over nine pounds in weight
- You have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- You have a history of heart disease
PREVENTING TYPE 2 DIABETES
Because type 2 diabetes often arises from being overweight and sedentary, you can do many things to prevent getting this disease. Here are some tips to get you started:
- If you’re overweight, lose those extra pounds. Do this by reducing the number of calories you eat every day. If you don’t know how many calories you consume, use one of the many free calorie tracking programs available on the web. A totally sedentary adult man should eat no more than 2200-2400 calories per day. A sedentary adult woman should eat no more than 1800-2000 calories per day.
- Eat a healthy diet. The less processed your food is, the better. Try to eat raw fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains and lean meats. Eat fats in moderation. Avoid food products that contain extra sugar or sodium, such as soda, lunchmeat and even fruit-flavored yogurt. Read labels so you know what you’re putting into your body.
- Get off your sofa! Exercise is important for your heart, your brain and your overall sense of well-being. If the idea of “exercise” sounds unappealing, think of it as play time: Join a recreational sport team (softball, volleyball, tennis, swimming) or play vigorously with your kids in the park. Hint: dancing counts as exercise, as long as you shake your booty.
In addition to adopting these health habits, regular screening should be part of your strategy for avoiding type 2 diabetes. Your annual lab work should include a fasting blood sugar or A1C test. If you test in the pre-diabetes range, you can act quickly to avoid your condition evolving into full-blown diabetes.
TYPE 2 DIABETES SYMPTOMS
The CDC estimates at least 7 million people in the United States have type 2 diabetes and don’t know it. That’s because this silent condition often comes on with no symptoms to tip you off. If you have any of the symptoms below, it’s time to see a doctor:
- Extreme thirst
- Frequent urination, especially getting up at night to urinate
- Unexplained weight loss
- Severe hunger, no matter how much you eat
- Sores or cuts that heal slowly
- Blurred vision
Note these symptoms can be caused by conditions other than diabetes. However, it’s good to have any unexplained symptoms checked by a healthcare provider.
TREATMENT OF TYPE 2 DIABETES
If, despite your best efforts, you wind up with type 2 diabetes anyway, don’t despair. You still can practice good lifestyle habits to help reverse your condition. Your health care provider also may prescribe one or more medications to manage your diabetes. These medications generally help your body manage blood glucose (sugar) levels better. Your provider also will “prescribe” a diet and exercise plan.
TYPE 2 DIABETES: YOU CAN BEAT IT
It’s almost entirely possible to avoid getting type 2 diabetes by eating healthy and staying active. But if you get diabetes anyway, don’t despair. Through medication and lifestyle changes, you can live a long, healthy life with diabetes.