diabetes risk factors

Recognizing diabetes risk factors and symptoms

Ignoring the signs of diabetes can lead to major health complications
January 14, 2019

Symptoms of diabetes can be difficult to spot, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends those vulnerable to the disease learn about diabetes risk factors. At-risk individuals who ignore the signs, symptoms and risk factors of diabetes could encounter major health complications in the future.

“Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to serious complications,” said Patsy Guerra, MSN/MHA, RN, health educator for the Texas A&M Healthy South Texas Diabetes Education Program. “Some possible complications are losing a limb, blindness, kidney failure and heart attack.”

Nearly 3 million Texans have been diagnosed with diabetes. An additional 663,000 people in Texas have diabetes and don’t even know it. This is, in part, because symptoms of all types of diabetes can vary between people. Sometimes symptoms of diabetes develop slowly over time, making it difficult for the person affected to know there’s a problem.

There are three types of diabetes: types 1 and 2, as well as gestational diabetes. Becoming familiar with the symptoms and risk factors associated with diabetes can help prevent or delay a diagnosis for those at risk.

Common signs of all types of diabetes

The CDC says that individuals who experience any of the following symptoms should see their health care provider to have their blood sugar checked during their annual checkup. These physical signs can point to all three types of diabetes.

  • Frequent urination, often in the evening
  • Excessive thirst
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme hunger
  • Blurred vision
  • Numbness or tingling hands or feet
  • More tired than usual
  • Very dry skin
  • Sores that are slow to heal
  • An increased number of infections

Type 1 diabetes

Previously called juvenile diabetes, type 1 diabetes typically develops in children, teens and young adults, but can start at any age. Type 1 diabetes requires lifelong management with insulin, and overlooking the signs can result in death.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) says that even though type 1 diabetes is easy to diagnose in children through a blood test, some of the signs and symptoms can be confused for those of other diseases. Symptoms usually develop over a few weeks or months and can be severe.

The ADA describes an infant or child who exhibits the following behaviors or conditions as “the classic picture of a child with new-onset type 1 diabetes.”

  • Frequent urination: also, if a child is potty-trained and dry at bedtime, but starts wetting the bed, diabetes could be the culprit
  • Drinking more water than usual
  • Excessively tired
  • Losing weight
  • Becoming ill more often

Other symptoms of type 1 diabetes are nausea, vomiting and stomach pain.

It is important that parents or guardians report these symptoms to their health care provider and ask for a blood test.

Type 1 diabetes can be difficult to diagnose in adults because it is often mistaken for type 2. For those who have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, but aren’t responding to typical treatment, the ADA advises them to talk to their health care provider about receiving further testing.

Type 2 diabetes

The signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes advance gradually over time. In fact, many people have diabetes and don’t know it. The CDC recommends people become familiar with its risk factors.

“Diabetes risk factors are important to look for,” said Guerra. “Identifying these factors can help manage symptoms, as well as help prevent further complications.”

Common diabetes risk factors for developing type 2 are:

  • Having prediabetes (a condition where blood sugars are elevated, but not enough to be called diabetes)
  • Being overweight
  • Being 40 years old or older
  • Having a close relative (such as a parent or sibling) with diabetes
  • Being physically active fewer than three days per week
  • Having had gestational diabetes or giving birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
  • Being African-American, Hispanic/Latino American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Pacific Islander

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes happens during pregnancy. It usually goes away after the baby is born but can increase a woman’s chance of developing type 2 diabetes by 50 percent, according to the CDC. Babies born to mothers who had gestational diabetes are also more likely to be obese and develop type 2 diabetes later in life.

The CDC says there are no symptoms of gestational diabetes. Therefore, it is important to learn the risk factors. The following factors can increase the chances of developing gestational diabetes.

  • Previously having had gestational diabetes
  • Previously giving birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
  • Being older than 25 years old
  • Being overweight
  • Having a family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Having polycystic ovary syndrome (a common health issue which can cause missed or late menstrual periods)
  • Being African-American, Hispanic/Latino American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander

Planning ahead

Knowing common diabetes risk factors and symptoms and putting a plan together to prevent or delay being diagnosed with diabetes, can reduce the chance for health complications. A plan for preventing diabetes should include a healthy diet and getting about 30 minutes of exercise on most days.

“Those at risk should work with their health care provider to avoid getting diabetes,” Guerra said. “Providers can create a strategy that incorporates a nutritious diet and physical activity to keep blood sugar at normal levels.”

— Leslie Cockrell

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