Diabetes a Silent, But Serious Disease

The statistics about diabetes are staggering. More than 29 million Americans have diabetes and nearly a quarter of them don’t realize it. And the numbers are expected to go up. Expanding waistlines and lack of exercise are to blame for the rapid increase in the number of people facing diabetes, a chronic condition that affects the way your body metabolizes sugar. Your body either resists the effects of insulin – a hormone that regulates the movement of sugar into your cells – or doesn’t produce enough insulin to maintain a normal glucose level.

Diabetes is a serious disease. Left unchecked, it can cause cardiovascular problems, nerve damage that can cause tingling in the fingers and toes, kidney damage, eye problems, and poor blood flow and nerve damage to the feet, which means that cuts and blisters can become serious infections.

Since so many people with diabetes don’t realize they have it, here are some of the symptoms to look for:

  • Increase thirst and frequent urination. Excess sugar building up in the bloodstream causes fluid to be pulled from the tissues, making you more thirsty than usual.
  • Increased hunger. Without enough insulin to move sugar into your body’s cells, your muscles and organs are starving for energy, which triggers intense hunger.
  • Weight loss. You may be eating more because of the intense hunger, but you lose weight since your body can’t metabolize glucose and uses stored energy in fat and muscles.
  • Fatigue. Your cells are deprived of energy making you more tired than usual.
  • Blurred vision. If blood sugar levels get too high, fluid is pulled from your eye lenses making it more difficult to focus.
  • Slow-healing sores or infections. Type 2 diabetes affects how the body responds to infections and the healing process can take longer.

Diabetes is diagnosed through a series of blood tests measuring the amount of glucose in your blood. If you are diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes, which means you are highly susceptible to developing diabetes, there are several steps to improve your health. There is no cure for diabetes, but a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grain combined with exercise will help you lose weight and prevent complications from developing. Depending on your glucose numbers, your doctor may also prescribe medication or insulin therapy and ask you to monitor your blood sugar at home. These steps will help keep your blood sugar close to the normal range, which will help protect your body from the damage caused by diabetes.

If you have diabetes, your doctor will want to see you regularly to check your glucose numbers and make sure you aren’t developing related health problems. People with uncontrolled diabetes develop multiple health problems so it’s essential your medical provider is keeping a close eye on how you are doing.

Lifestyle changes – such as eating better and daily exercise – can help prevent the disease from developing and diminish the effects it can have on your body.

By Scott Schuldes ,a certified family nurse practitioner and associate medical director at ThedaCare Physicians-Hilbert. He can be reached at scott.schuldes@thedacare.org.