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All About Diabetes

Editor’s note: Be sure to register for our upcoming webinar on diabetes basics on April 14 from 4:00PM to 5:30PM ET.

by Kim Ladd, RN, BS, CPHQ, CDCES

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 2020 National Diabetes Statistics Report, 34.2 million Americans, which is just over 1 in 10 people, have diabetes and 88 million people over the age of 18 have prediabetes.

National Diabetes Stats Report 2020 infographic--number of people with diabetes and number with prediabetes
Facts on Diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic disorder of carbohydrate metabolism resulting from inadequate production or utilization of insulin. In simpler terms, diabetes is when blood sugar (glucose) levels are high.

The glucose level comes from the carbohydrates (sugar and starches) in most foods that are eaten. Carbohydrates are broken down (metabolized) by the digestive system into glucose and sent to the bloodstream where it waits to be sent into the cells by insulin.

When a person has diabetes, their pancreas either doesn’t make enough insulin or their body is unable to use its own insulin effectively (insulin resistance).

Insulin is a hormone that, among other functions, helps to move glucose (sugar) out of the blood stream and into cells where it can be used for energy. When there is not enough insulin to move glucose into the cells or the cells are insulin resistant, the glucose stays in the blood stream, and is known as hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar.

Glucose is an irritant to nerves and blood vessels. When glucose stays in the bloodstream instead of entering cells, especially over a long period of time, it causes complications. It is the complications of diabetes that cause morbidity and mortality.

Diabetes Complications

The most common complication of diabetes is cardiovascular disease.  This short video from the CDC explains the connection between diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Diabetes is also the number one cause of blindness in adults as this short video from the CDC explains.

Other complications of diabetes include:

  • kidney disease and failure
  • slow-healing wounds
  • infections of the kidneys, skin, bladder, vagina & gums
  • gum disease
  • bladder dysfunction
  • sexual problems
  • gastroparesis
  • neuropathy
  • foot ulcers
  • lower extremity amputations

Types of Diabetes

There are different types of diabetes but the most common is type 2 diabetes, accounting for about 95% of diabetes cases. Doctors are still not sure exactly what causes type 2 diabetes, but it tends to run in families. There are some risk factors that are known to contribute to diabetes, which include being overweight, being over the age of 45, lack of exercise, poor eating habits, unhealthy lifestyle habits and certain illnesses.

Prediabetes and Its Management

Prediabetes is a term used for individuals whose glucose levels do not meet the criteria for type 2 diabetes, but whose levels are too high to be considered normal. Prediabetes should be viewed as a warning sign that you are at an increased risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Here are some tips to help you manage prediabetes and diabetes, regardless of the type, and to help prevent diabetes complications:

  • Make a commitment to manage your diabetes.
  • Visit your doctor at least every 6 months for a diabetes check-up.
  • Keep your vaccinations up to date.
  • Establish a daily routine.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Test blood glucose levels at home as ordered by your doctor.
  • Exercise regularly (at least 150 minutes each week).
  • Adopt healthy eating habits (balance, moderation, and portion control). The Food Plate Method is an easy way to get started.
  • Get to and stay at a healthy weight.
  • Ask for help if you feel down. A mental health counselor, support group, member of the clergy, friend, or family member who will listen to your concerns may help you feel better.
  • Learn to cope with stress. Stress can raise your blood glucose levels. While it is hard to remove stress from your life, you can learn to handle it.
  • Stop smoking. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for free, confidential help to quit smoking.
  • If you drink alcohol, do so responsibly. Alcohol can cause low blood sugar, depending on how much you drink and if you eat at the same time. If you choose to drink, do so only in moderation and always with food. Moderation means 1 drink/day for women of all ages and men older than 65, and up to 2 drinks/day for men age 65 and younger.
  • Take your diabetes medicines even when you feel good. Tell your doctor if you cannot afford your medicines or if you have any side effects.
  • Check your feet everyday visually or non-visually by using your fingertips to search for issues such as cuts, breaks in the skin, blisters, new calluses, swollen areas, bumps, embedded objects, and changes in foot texture and/or shape. Call your doctor right away about any sores that do not go away.
  • Brush your teeth and floss every day to avoid problems with your mouth, teeth, or gums.
  • Check your blood pressure if your doctor asks you to do this. Talking blood pressure meters can be found at online retailers such as Amazon, Maxi Aids and LS&S.

Additional Information

Introduction to Diabetes and Diabetic Retinopathy – VisionAware

Diabetes and diabetic retinopathy Archives – VisionAware

Monitoring Your Blood Sugar and Using Insulin Archived Webinar

Diabetes and Medicare