How to Know If You Have Diabetes

Gwen Wodiuk, DNP, FNP-C

Woman checking her blood sugar levels

Diabetes affects more than 30 million people in the United States. But 25 percent do not know they have this chronic condition. This is a significant problem since it is the 7th leading cause of death in America. Diabetes is caused by your body either not making enough insulin or not being able to use the insulin. Insulin is the chemical in our bodies that helps the glucose (sugar) from the food we eat get into the cells where it provides energy. Because there is a problem with either production or response to insulin, the glucose builds up in the blood leading to higher than normal levels. This is often called high blood sugar.

November is National Diabetes Month which brings awareness to this chronic condition. However, it is important to continuously discuss the importance of knowing the warning signs and how to manage it.

Diabetes Symptoms

There are signs that there is a problem. Recognizing these as warnings can help know when to visit your health care provider to discuss this possibility. Some people are very thirsty. Then they go to the bathroom more, especially at night. Weight seems to drop off without intentionally working to lose it. This can be in spite of being very hungry since the cells are not getting the glucose or energy they need. Because of the increased glucose in the blood, it is possible to have blurry vision, tingling in hands or feet or fatigue. Infections or sores may also take longer to heal.

Finding out if you have this condition involves a visit to your health care provider to get blood tests done. The first test is usually to check your blood sugar level. This is best done before you have had anything more than water to drink or any food. It can also be done if you have had food or drinks as an initial evaluation if you have concerns based on symptoms and the appointment is too late in the day. There is another test that is used as well: the A1C. This provides a different number giving information about your blood sugar over the last few months. These tests are the first step to identifying if you may have this condition.

There are a number of risks for developing type 2 diabetes, the most common type. Things that you cannot change are your age (over 45), whether you have a parent, brother or sister who is diabetic and for women, if you have had gestational diabetes or had a baby weighing more than nine pounds.

Things that you can change are your weight and physical activity. Your body mass index (BMI) is a way of identifying if you weigh more than you should for your height. Numbers from 25 and up are considered weighing too much. Losing weight can help decrease your risk of diabetes. Engaging in some type of physical activity at least three times a week decreases your risk. There are many things you can do to be active. Some of these are going for a walk, riding a bike or dancing. You do not have to go to a gym to be active!

Diabetes can be managed by working with a health care team, but the first step is to recognize it!

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