5 Things you didn’t know about diabetes

November 6, 2014
Heart with a blood pressure monitor and a list of heart-related symptoms people should prevent.

There are many preconceived notions about diabetes that can be detrimental to diabetes awareness.

When the word “diabetes” comes up, some preconceived notions may come to mind. Perhaps a mental picture of someone who is overweight and missing a limb; or perhaps an image of a low-energy, blurry-eyed individual sitting on their couch springs to mind.

There are many assumptions about diabetes, some of which can be detrimental for diabetes awareness. In order to clear the air about some of these misconceptions, here are five things you probably didn’t know about diabetes:

1. Average or underweight people can develop diabetes

This may not seem like a revolutionary fact about diabetes, because most people know about type 1 diabetes, which usually develops in children whose cells are unable to produce insulin; however, this can be the case for some people with type 2 diabetes as well.

“There’s been a growing number of reports of average weight—or even underweight—people who are developing type 2 diabetes,” said Maggie Scheerer, RN, C.D.E., diabetes educator at the Texas A&M Health Science Center Coastal Bend Health Education Center. “People falsely associate the risk factor of being overweight with diabetes itself, and that can be a dangerous misconception.”

While it’s true that being overweight increases your risk for developing diabetes, it is not the definitive factor. Other risks factors include:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Family history
  • Physical activity

“Our weight and amount of physical activity are the two factors that we can—and should—change, but age, race and family history also play a significant role in developing diabetes,” Scheerer stated. If you have a family history of diabetes, Scheerer advises that you get tested, no matter your weight or fitness level.

2. There are more than two (or three!) types of diabetes

Gone are the days when diabetes could be categorized as type 1, type 2 or gestational. “There are also Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults (LADA), Maturity-Onset Diabetes of the Youth (MODY) and other types of diabetes, that people aren’t aware of,” Scheerer said.

LADA is a form of type 1 diabetes that begins to form during adulthood. LADA has a slower onset and progression speed than traditional type 1, and sometimes includes the insulin-resistant characteristic of type 2.

MODY, as its name suggests, is typically diagnosed in adolescence or early adulthood, and can imitate type 1 or type 2 diabetes. MODY is an umbrella term for about 12 different strains of diabetes that are caused by single-gene mutations.

Other, more rarely heard about forms of diabetes include Insulin-Resistant Type 1, which is a form of type 1 diabetes that exhibits the insulin resistant factor of type 2 and requires patients to take insulin, and Cystic Fibrosis-Related Diabetes, which is a kind of diabetes that resembles type 1 but is triggered in Cystic Fibrosis patients by secretions of insulin and digestive enzymes from the pancreas.

3. Approximately 30 percent of people with diabetes are undiagnosed

Of the $29.1 million Americans who have diabetes, almost 30 percent are undiagnosed – approximately 8.1 million people.

“There are a number of reasons these people remain undiagnosed; it could be because they don’t think they’re at risk, or even because they aren’t displaying any symptoms, but a lot of people are unaware that they have this disease and don’t get tested for it,” Scheerer said.

Narrowing that gap could be as simple as being more aggressive in testing for diabetes.

4. People with diabetes don’t always exhibit symptoms

“When a person is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, they may have had the disease for two to five years, and all the while, those high blood sugars are damaging or killing off parts of the body,” Scheerer said. By the time symptoms begin to show, irreversible damage could have already been done.

Some people’s bodies have adjusted to their high blood sugars, making them less likely to exhibit symptoms until much later in the course of the disease. Going to your annual physical and asking to be screened for diabetes is the best way to avoid finding out about this latent disease before it’s too late.

5. Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the U.S.

There’s a reason diabetes is dubbed the “silent killer.” In 2010, diabetes was mentioned as an underlying cause of death on 234,051 death certificates. According to the American Diabetes Association, that number could be largely underreported.

No matter you’re weight or lifestyle, it’s good to know the symptoms of diabetes:

  • Frequent urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Excessive hunger—despite eating
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Slow healing cuts or bruises
  • Blurry vision
  • Tingling, pain or numbness in hands or feet (type 2)
  • Weight loss, despite eating more (type 1)

If you or someone you know is exhibiting theses symptoms, or has a family history of diabetes, ask your health care provider for a screening. Diabetes is a manageable disease, but the first step is diagnosis.

— Elizabeth Grimm

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