According to the Centers for Disease Control, over 9 percent of the adult population of Washington, D.C., has a diabetes diagnosis. About 90 percent of diabetes cases nationwide are type 2 diabetes, a condition that is often preventable.
Below, you’ll find some tips on reducing your risk from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and my experience in the MedStar Georgetown Emergency Department.
What does it mean to have diabetes or prediabetes?
The body breaks down food into glucose, a type of sugar. A hormone called insulin allows glucose to leave the blood and enter cells, fueling the body’s functioning. People with diabetes produce too little insulin or cannot use insulin effectively.
There are three types of diabetes: gestational diabetes, a temporary form of the disease that can affect women during pregnancy; type 1 diabetes, a non-preventable autoimmune disease; and type 2 diabetes, a metabolic condition that begins as a condition called prediabetes. Prediabetes is diagnosed when a person’s blood sugar levels are unusually high, but not high enough to qualify for diabetes diagnosis.
Risk factors for prediabetes
Prediabetes typically does not cause any symptoms, so many people do not know that they have this condition. It is important to know whether you are at risk.
Risk factors for prediabetes include a high body mass index (BMI), infrequent exercise, a family history of the disease, a personal history of developing gestational diabetes during pregnancy, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and high blood pressure. People aged 45 and older are at elevated risk, as are people of African American, Alaska Native, American Indian, Asian American, Hispanic, or Pacific Islander heritage.
Prediabetes can be diagnosed with a simple blood test. If you have a high body mass index (BMI) and one or more other risk factor, you should talk to your primary care physician about whether a blood test might make sense for you.
Healthy habits make a difference
If left untreated, most people with prediabetes will develop type 2 diabetes within ten years. Lifestyle changes can often stop prediabetes from progressing. By managing your weight, exercising, and eating a healthy diet, you can dramatically lower your risk for type 2 diabetes.
Possible complications of type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes can be managed by carefully monitoring blood sugar, making lifestyle changes, and taking medication and/or insulin injections. If the disease is left untreated or improperly treated, however, it causes serious issues. These include problems affecting the heart, kidneys, eyes, circulatory, and nervous systems. Even prediabetes can cause damage to the body over time.
In the Emergency Department, we sometimes see the most severe effects of untreated or poorly controlled diabetes. Dangerously high or low levels of insulin or glucose in the blood can trigger medical emergencies, including kidney failure, strokes, and comas. Although these severe diabetic complications are rare, they are a reminder that it is important to take prediabetes seriously.
Visit MedStarGeorgetown.org/ED for more information about the Emergency Department.