Diabetes: You Could Be at Risk

Ninety percent of people with prediabetes don't know it. Are you one of them?

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Although the term “prediabetes” has existed for about 15 years, many people don’t know what it is and, more importantly, how to stop it.

Having prediabetes means your blood glucose (sugar) level is higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Without weight loss and moderate physical activity, 10 to 30 percent of people with prediabetes will develop type 2 diabetes within five years.

You may have prediabetes and be at risk for type 2 diabetes if you:

  • Are 45 or older
  • Are overweight
  • Are physically active fewer than three times per week
  • Had diabetes while pregnant (gestational diabetes) or gave birth to a baby that weighed more than 9 pounds
  • Have a family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Have high blood pressure

The problem with diabetes

Diabetes is a disease that affects how your body turns food into energy. Most of the food you eat is broken down into sugar and released into your bloodstream. Your pancreas makes a hormone called insulin, which lets blood sugar into your body’s cells for use as energy.

If you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use the insulin it makes as well as it should. When there isn’t enough insulin or cells stop responding to insulin, too much blood sugar stays in your bloodstream, which can cause serious health problems over time.

Ninety-five percent of people with the disease have Type 2 diabetes. It can lead to:

  • Blindness
  • Heart attack
  • Kidney failure
  • Loss of toes, feet or legs
  • Stroke

Symptoms of type 2 diabetes usually don’t appear until the disease is advanced. They include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Blurred vision
  • Fatigue
  • Unexpected weight loss

In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. But a study published in early 2017 indicated diabetes could be the third leading cause of death. It was funded by the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health and the National Center for Health Statistics.

What can you do about it?

You don’t have to make big changes to prevent or delay diabetes.

  • Cut back on calories and saturated fat.
  • If you’re overweight, losing 7 percent of your total weight can help a lot. That’s 15 pounds for a person who weighs 200 pounds.
  • Increase your daily physical activity.

“An overwhelming amount of research shows that after smoking cessation and limiting alcohol consumption, the next biggest thing people can do to improve their health, including their risk for type 2 diabetes, is getting more physical activity,” said Great River Medical Center diabetes adviser David Carlson, MD, Family Medicine. “I think physical activity trumps many medicines we can prescribe.”

Exercising doesn’t mean you have to work out at a gym. Minutes of exercise can be accumulated throughout the day. Begin by parking further from work or stores, and using the stairs instead of the elevator.

Program helps reduce diabetes risk

The Des Moines County Public Health Department offers a 16-week program for people at risk for diabetes. The National Diabetes Prevention Program provides:

  • Skills needed to lose weight, be more physically active and manage stress
  • A trained lifestyle coach for guidance and encouragement
  • On-staff diabetes educator
  • Support from other participants with the same goals

“In a CDC study of people at high risk for diabetes, medications reduced progression of prediabetes to diabetes in about 30 percent of participants,” said Great River Medical Center diabetes adviser David Carlson, M.D., Family Medicine. “Intensive education with lifestyle change reduced progression to diabetes in about 60 percent of participants. There’s no medicine that can come close to that.”

Criteria for the National Diabetes Prevention Program include:

  • High BMI
  • High blood sugar
  • Results from a detailed diabetes risk test

Many health insurance providers cover diabetes education. Potential participants who do not have coverage may apply for financial assistance.

To learn more about the National Diabetes Prevention Program, please call 319-753-8290.