Basic Knowledge About Diabetes

Basic Knowledge About Diabetes

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Diabetes affects people of all ages.

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Your body needs a pancreatic hormone, called insulin, to lower your blood glucose level. Decreased insulin production or the body's inability to use insulin often leads to diabetes. Your risk for diabetes may be partly linked with family genetics, but controllable lifestyle factors influence the development of type 2 diabetes. If blood glucose stays high for too long, it can damage your body tissues, and diabetes may shorten your life expectancy. It is important to see your doctor and get tested if you suspect you may have diabetes.

Diabetes Epidemic

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 8.3 percent of the U.S. population, 11.3 percent of people age 20 and older and 26.9 percent of people age 65 and older had some form of diabetes in 2010. The incidence of diabetes among U.S. adults increased 160 percent from 1980 to 2010. The annual cost of diabetes in the U.S. -- including direct medical costs and loss of productivity -- was estimated at $245 billion in 2012. People of all ages can develop diabetes, including infants and children. It can also develop during pregnancy.

Diabetes Definition

If your body's tissues can't efficiently use glucose for energy, your blood glucose level rises, which is the hallmark of diabetes. With type 2 diabetes, the pancreas produces insulin, but the hormone does not adequately stimulate passage of glucose from the blood into the tissues. With longstanding type 2 diabetes, insulin production may gradually decrease to an insufficient level. Lifestyle factors, including lack of exercise and being overweight, increase your risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

Roughly 95 percent of people with diabetes have type 2. The remaining 5 percent have type 1 diabetes, which is caused by loss of insulin production by the pancreas. With type 1 disease, the immune system mistakenly destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. Type 1 diabetes, formerly known as insulin-dependent diabetes, is usually diagnosed in childhood or early adulthood.

Diabetes Complications

CDC reports that about 67 percent of U.S. adults with diabetes have high blood pressure. Diabetes increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack and stroke. Persistently high blood sugar levels can damage the kidneys and eyes over time, potentially causing kidney failure and blindness.

Diabetes may cause nervous system damage and loss of sensation in the hands and feet. Lower limb amputations, due to chronic infections and poor circulation, are sometimes needed in the end stages of diabetes. Diabetes increases your risk of dying from kidney, liver, lung, digestive and infectious diseases. People with diabetes are also at increased risk for certain types of cancer.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Extra fat around your midsection, a sedentary lifestyle and high blood triglycerides are risk factors for type 2 diabetes. Possible symptoms of type 2 diabetes include excessive thirst and frequent urination, fatigue and blurred vision. Many people with type 2 diabetes do not have identifiable symptoms. Prediabetes -- which is characterized by elevated blood sugar but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes -- typically has no symptoms.

In addition to a fasting blood glucose measurement, your doctor may order an A1C test to check for diabetes. This test provides an estimate of your average blood glucose level over the previous 3 months. An oral glucose tolerance test is another test used to diagnose diabetes. This test assesses how efficiently your body clears glucose from your blood after drinking a solution that contains a measured amount of glucose.

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