It’s hard to say for certain how many Americans have diabetes, since it’s been estimated that as many as 6.3 million people are undiagnosed. You might be a diabetic if you are excessively thirsty and hungry all the time, urinate frequently (as often as every hour), encounter unusual weight gain or weight loss, feel exhausted for no real reason, commonly suffer nausea, have blurred vision, develop vaginal or yeast infections, have dry mouth, take a long time to heal sores or cuts and suffer itchy skin. Diabetes is not contagious, but people who are older, overweight and sedentary are more likely to develop this disease.
There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2 and gestational. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, where the body’s immune system turns against itself, attacking insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Scientists believe viral and genetic factors are at play here, with most people receiving a diagnosis when they are younger. This type of diabetes occurs evenly in males and females, but is more common in Caucasian sectors of the population, particularly in northern European countries like Sweden and Finland.
The onset is sudden for a type 1 diabetic, who has blurry vision, feels constantly hungry, thirsty and fatigued, and loses weight rapidly. If they do not receive insulin everyday, they can lapse into a coma. You may need immediate medical attention if you’re always thirsty, you urinate frequently, if your breathing becomes more rapid, if your abdomen hurts or if your breath smells like nail polish remover.
Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90-95% of all diabetics and is most commonly found in older Hispanics, African Americans and Native Americans, as well as Native Alaskans and Pacific Islander Americans. The onset for a type 2 diabetic is more gradual, but 80% of those who have it are overweight and physically inactive.
Symptoms include slow healing wounds, frequent infections, unusual thirst, frequent urination, nausea and fatigue. Just like type 1 diabetes, glucose builds up in the blood, which prevents the body from using it as fuel. Yet, unlike type 1, the body is usually producing enough insulin, although for unknown reasons, the body lacks the ability to make use of it.
Learning that you are a diabetic can feel overwhelming at first, but you can control your symptoms through lifestyle changes and careful monitoring. Diabetes care includes dieting and exercise. Diets should be diverse, high in fiber and low in fat and salt. Each day, you’ll need to monitor your cholesterol, blood glucose levels, blood pressure, triglycerides and weight.
You’ll need to talk to your healthcare practitioner about a plan for physical activity and meals, as well as medications and self-monitoring. Often your body will be less resilient, so you’ll need annual flu shots, eye exams, foot exams, kidney function tests and dental exams to stay healthy.
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