Diabetes is a critical condition that influences your body’s ability to convert what you eat into the energy your body needs to operate. Over 200,000 Americans die every year from diabetes. In addition, it is a primary cause of heart disease, strokes, kidney failure, blindness and amputations. If you have diabetes, you are more than twice as likely to develop heart disease or die from a heart attack as people without diabetes.
Your stomach digests everything you eat and drink and most of it breaks down into sugar molecules called glucose. Your bloodstream absorbs glucose, which is then transported to cells in every part of your body. Insulin, a hormone that unlocks the cells and allows the glucose to enter, provides the fuel that keeps cells alive and functioning properly.
Diabetes is the result of your body not producing enough insulin to remove glucose from your bloodstream or if your cells are not responding to the insulin’s attempts to unlock them. This creates excess sugar in the bloodstream, which can cause damage to every major system in your body.
There are two major types of diabetes:
- Type 1, where the body produces little or no insulin. Type 1 diabetes accounts for only 5 – 10% of cases and is most common among children. It requires daily insulin injections.
- Type 2, where the body produces at least some insulin, but cells don’t respond to it. Type 2 accounts for 90 – 95% of cases. Type 2 diabetes is most common among people over 40 who are overweight. But as Americans eat more, gain weight, and get less exercise, the rates of Type 2 diabetes becomes more common. The same is true among children as well. Unfortunately over 5 million people have this type of diabetes and don’t even know it.
Over 18 million Americans have diabetes. Latinos are much more likely to develop diabetes than Caucasians; while African-Americans are about 60% more likely. Over 40 million Americans have pre-diabetes, which means they have blood glucose levels that are higher than normal, but not quite high enough to be diagnosed as diabetic. A large percentage of people with pre-diabetes eventually develop diabetes.
- 13.0 million men have diabetes (11.8% of all men ages 20 years and older)
- 12.6 million women have diabetes (10.8% of all women ages 20 years and older)
- Tingling or numbness of the hands and feet
- Cuts and scrapes that take a long time to heal
- Urinary tract infections
- Impotence or erectile dysfunction
Because the symptoms of Type 2 diabetes are so difficult to recognize, the diagnosis is often only made during a routine medical checkup. Pre-diabetes, which has no visible symptoms at all, is even harder to diagnose. So if you are experiencing any of the symptoms above or any of the risk factors listed below, schedule an exam immediately. If your healthcare provider suspects that you may have diabetes or pre-diabetes, he or she will order several blood tests to measure the glucose levels in your blood and your body’s ability to process it.
Even though there is no cure for diabetes, it can be managed and treated. About 90% of the time you can prevent diabetes before it starts. The keys to prevention and treatment are basic:
If you’re being treated for diabetes, you’ll see your healthcare provider every few months. He or she may prescribe medication but there are limits to what your healthcare provider can do. It is ultimately up to you because you’ll need to monitor your glucose levels at home, take your medication exactly as prescribed, keep all of your medical appointments and make the necessary lifestyle changes.
Diabetes & Sexual Health
Bladder symptoms and changes in sexual function are common health problems as people age, but also may be caused by undiagnosed diabetes. Men with diabetes may have difficulty with erections or ejaculation. Women may have problems with sexual response and vaginal lubrication. The likelihood of urinary tract infections and bladder problems are much higher in people with diabetes. By monitoring and keeping diabetes under control you can lower your risk of developing sexual health problems.
Autonomic nerves control internal organs and produce signals for digestion and circulation of blood. The autonomic nerve signals for an increase of blood flow to the genitals which causes the smooth muscle tissue to relax. Damage to these nerves can hinder normal function and damage blood vessels leading to reduced blood flow, thereby contributing to sexual dysfunction.
Nutritional Tips for Diabetes
- Plan your meals and eat healthy every day.
- Eat plenty of magnesium. Magnesium plays a major role in the breakdown of carbohydrates and may affect blood glucose levels by influencing insulin (a hormone that helps to control blood sugar levels). Good sources of magnesium include spinach, tofu, almonds, broccoli, lentils, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.
- Foods such as whole grains, beans and lentils are known to have a low Glycemic Index (GI). This means that they will raise blood glucose at a slower and steadier rate/level than those with a high GI.
- Stick to more complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables. These are high in fiber and will help to lower your cholesterol levels.
Pre-diabetes is a condition where blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be considered diabetes. Losing weight and increasing physical activity may aid in delaying your pre-diabetes progressing to diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes develops very quickly—usually over a few days or weeks—and the symptoms are often severe. These include:
- Frequent urination and larger-than-normal amounts of urine, especially at night
- Dry mouth and excessive thirst
- Sudden feeling of fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
- Blurry vision
Type 2 diabetes develops much more slowly and the symptoms are much less noticeable. Without even knowing it, people have lived with diabetes for an average of over 5 years prior to being diagnosed. Early symptoms of Type 2 diabetes are the same as for Type 1, and oftentimes goes unnoticed.
If you have type 2 diabetes, you are twice as likely to suffer from low testosterone as a man without diabetes.
- Being 45 or older
- Being overweight, especially if you carry your weight around the middle as opposed to around your hips
- Having a parent, brother or sister with Type 2 diabetes
- Belonging to a high-risk ethnic group (African-American, Latino, Asian-American, Pacific Islander, American Indian)
- Exercising fewer than twice per week
- Having high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol
Questions to Ask Your Health Care Provider
- How often should I check my glucose numbers?
- What are the warning signs or symptoms that my blood sugars are too high? What do I do if my blood sugars are too high?
- What are the warning signs or symptoms that my blood sugars are too low? What do I do if my blood sugars are too low?
- How can I change my lifestyle and diet in a way that will be healthy?
- What kind of diet should I follow?
- What are the side effects of my medications/insulin?
- Will I always need medications/insulin?
- What are the long-term complications of diabetes, and how can I avoid them?
- How do other factors such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure affect me if I have diabetes?
The basic treatment management for diabetes is proper diet, insulin, and oral medication to lower blood glucose levels. As a patient you should be educated on the disease and practice self-care to manage your diabetes and lead a normal life.
Type 1 diabetics have insulin delivered by injection or a pump.
Type 2 diabetics can control their blood glucose by following a healthy meal plan and exercise program, losing excess weight, and taking oral medication. Medications and dosages vary based on individual needs and requirements which can change daily. Some people with type 2 diabetes may also need insulin to control their blood glucose.
The key to monitoring your diabetes is proper self-management education which can be achieved through training programs healthcare professionals can provide you. To reap the most benefits, you should be as proactive as you can be about treatments will go a long way.