Millions of people around the world suffer from diabetes and, in recognition of November being Diabetes Awareness Month, it’s important to know the warning signs of diabetes to enable earlier diagnosis and better outcomes.
What to Know about Diabetes
Diabetes is a chronic health condition in which the body either does not produce enough insulin or the cells aren’t able to use insulin effectively. As a result, glucose levels become elevated in patients with diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 37.3 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, totaling 11.3 percent of the population. Of those cases, 8.5 million people are undiagnosed. In addition, 96 million people 18 years and older have prediabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is thought to be caused by an autoimmune response and is usually diagnosed in children, teens, and young adults. It can cause life-threatening problems if not detected early. Type 2 is the most prevalent form of diabetes and typically develops over time. Diet and lifestyle lead to symptoms, and other risk factors include genetics, having gestational diabetes during pregnancy, and certain hormonal disorders.
For both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, increased thirst, heightened hunger, fatigue, increased urination, and changes in weight are common symptoms. However, people with Type 2 diabetes may not show any symptoms.
Over time, too much blood sugar can lead to other serious health issues, including heart disease, vision loss, stroke, and kidney disease. Although there is no cure for diabetes, losing weight, eating healthy, and being physically active can improve the condition.
Prediabetes and Prevention
Most people go through a phase of prediabetes before developing diabetes, marked by impaired glucose tolerance. Prediabetes raises the risk for heart disease and stroke, as well as developing Type 2 diabetes. Patients diagnosed with prediabetes can participate in a CDC-recognized lifestyle change program to learn healthy steps to reverse elevated blood sugar.
Fortunately for those with prediabetes and risk factors for Type 2 diabetes, small lifestyle changes can make a big impact in delaying or even reversing the course of the disease. Losing weight can significantly reduce risk. In a large-scale study, the Mayo Clinic found that people reduced their risk for diabetes by nearly 60 percent after losing approximately 7 percent of their body weight with exercise and diet changes. In addition to assisting with weight loss, regular physical exercise can lower blood sugar and increase sensitivity to insulin, which keeps blood sugar levels within a normal range. Shifting to more plant-based foods that are fiber rich, reducing carbohydrate intake, and eating healthy fats are all dietary changes that can help stall the development of diabetes.
Encouraging Patients to Take Action
While knowing individual risk factors and steps for prevention is important for patients to delay development of diabetes or keep up with daily management, providers play a vital role in educating their patients.
Did you know Medicare part B (insurance) covers outpatient diabetes self-management training (DSMT) if you have been diagnosed with diabetes? DSMT teaches patients to cope with and manage diabetes. The program includes tips for eating healthy and being active, monitoring blood glucose (blood sugar), taking prescription drugs, and reducing risks. Some patients may also be eligible for medical nutrition therapy training. Medicare Part B also covers medical nutrition therapy services if a patient has diabetes or kidney disease or had a kidney transplant in the last 36 months. Services include:
An initial nutrition and lifestyle assessment
Individual and/or group nutritional therapy services
Help managing the lifestyle factors that affect your diabetes
Follow-up visits to check on your progress in managing your diet
Regular diabetes screenings are recommended for people over 45, as well as those with risk factors or family history. For patients with prediabetes, providers can encourage lifestyle changes to avoid the onset of the disease.