Know Your Risk for Diabetes
Diabetes is dramatically on the rise across America, among all ages, genders, ethnic groups and economic levels. The condition is marked by high levels of blood glucose, or blood sugar, and can have serious health consequences, including increased risk of cardiovascular problems. The most common type is called adult-onset, or Type 2, diabetes, which usually occurs after age 40.
Marilyn Sparling, a dietitian-clinician at Duke University Medical Center, says the increase in Type 2 diabetes has struck some communities particularly hard.
"Several minority groups seem to be especially hard hit, including African Americans," she says. "Their rate for Type 2 diabetes has tripled in the past 30 years."
Sparling, who is a diabetes educator, says the most important step in diabetes prevention is for people to know their risk factors for the disease, including family medical history. "If you have family members who have diabetes, this is certainly one of the factors to look at in determining your own risk for developing the condition," she says.
Sparling says people can't change their heredity, but there are a number of risk factors that can be controlled. Among the most serious are being overweight and having a sedentary lifestyle with little physical exercise. She says people can modify these factors with changes in their lifestyle such as losing some weight, getting more physical activity, and having a healthy diet.
Additional risk factors for women can include giving birth to a child weighing more than 9 pounds or having diabetes during pregnancy, a condition known as gestational diabetes.
As for diabetes warning signs, she points to two in particular: "Extreme thirst, you've just got to have something to drink all the time. And then frequent urination, you're going to the bathroom all the time. Those are two big warning signs that something's not right, and you need to go get your glucose checked."
Sparling says if people see these or other warning signs, such as numbness in their feet or blurry eyesight, they should see a medical professional and have a fasting blood sugar screening. This is a simple procedure, just like any standard blood test. If the test indicates elevated levels of glucose in the blood, further tests may be needed.
She adds that people should also recognize a condition called pre-diabetes, in which blood sugar is higher than normal but not high enough to be determined diabetic. "If your readings fall into this pre-diabetic category, it's a great time to start looking a lifestyle factors," Sparling says.