Every year, 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. Those with diabetes make up almost 9.5 percent of the population, and it is the seventh leading cause of death. The time is now to focus on prevention, healthy changes for those already diagnosed, and understanding the key signs of diabetes.
This article can help you recognize diabetes symptoms and learn about changes that can help prevent or manage a diabetes diagnosis.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a metabolic condition where the body stops making enough insulin, no longer makes insulin at all, or becomes resistant to insulin.
Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas. Your body needs insulin to use sugar from food for energy or storage. Lack of insulin or insulin resistance leads to too-high levels of blood sugar, which is what produces common signs of diabetes.
There are two types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. This article focuses on type 2 diabetes.
Warning Signs of Diabetes
It’s important for all adults and at-risk children to be aware of the signs of diabetes and watch for these changes in their day-to-day life. Prompt treatment is important to avoid long-term damage.
The most common early signs of diabetes may include:
- Extreme hunger or thirst
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Urinating frequently (due to associated kidney issues or urinary tract infections)
- Blurry vision
- Acanthosis nigricans (darkening of the skin at body creases)
- Fatigue and irritability
- Dry mouth and itchy skin
Some may experience additional symptoms after having diabetes for a long period of time. Those include:
- Wounds that heal more slowly
- Yeast infections in folds of skin, such as under the breasts, between fingers and toes, or around sex organs
- Numbness or tingling in the hands, feet, or legs
Most of these symptoms have to do with changes in glucose and blood sugar due to insulin resistance. For example, feeling extra hungry or fatigued can result from your body resisting the insulin it needs to convert the glucose from food into energy.
Urinating more often happens when your kidneys aren’t able to absorb the elevated blood sugar, which causes the body to produce more urine. This is also what can make you extra thirsty as your body craves more fluids to replace the lost ones—and what can lead to dry mouth and itchy skin.
Dietary and Lifestyle Changes for Diabetes
People with diabetes have almost twice the risk of dying from heart disease and stroke as compared to those without diabetes, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Making different lifestyle choices can help you manage your diabetes while also decreasing your chances of further disease.
Although there’s no cure for type 2 diabetes, research has shown some people can reverse it and reach normal blood sugars again. In others, type 2 diabetes can be managed with the right routine. This takes lifelong dietary and lifestyle changes like:
- Getting a balanced mix of healthy, whole-food proteins, fats, fruits and vegetables, and starches with every meal
- Eating plenty of fiber
- Being aware of carbohydrate intake and avoiding refined, high-glycemic carbs
- Avoiding sugar-sweetened beverages (unless you have low blood sugar levels that need to be increased quickly)
- Stopping smoking
- Being physically active daily
- Managing your blood pressure, A1C levels, and cholesterol
- Staying hydrated
These healthy habits are also good for diabetes prevention in everyone.
It’s also very important to see your doctor regularly to monitor progress and make sure you are as healthy as possible. Don’t make drastic changes without speaking to your healthcare professional first about the pros and cons. Making healthy choices daily increases your chances of feeling your best and avoiding the most common diseases that Americans face.