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Diabetes & Medical Alert IDs

Diabetes is a disease that affects the metabolism and affects the way the body uses digested food for energy and growth. This results in high blood glucose levels which can have many long-term health consequences.

Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose by our bodies to use as energy, and normally the pancreas creates a hormone called insulin to help deliver the glucose to the cells of the body. While glucose normally powers the body, too much of it in the blood stream will cause problems. People who are affected by diabetes don’t make enough insulin within their bodies, or can’t use the insulin they produce, to effectively use our main source of fuel.

Looking at the Statistics

Just in the United States, there are more than 25 million people (8.3% of the population) dealing with diabetes, and, according to the American Diabetes Association, an estimated 7 million of them have the condition but remain undiagnosed. Looking at it closer, a few more details emerge:

  • 13.0 million men, 20 year old or older, have diabetes
  • 12.6 million women, 20 years old or older, have diabetes
  • 215,000 people under 20 years old have diabetes (about 1 in every 400 children)
  • In 2007, diabetes was listed as the underlying cause of death on 71,382 certificates and a contributing factor on 160,022 more.
  • Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S., so early diagnosis is a key to stop the problem before it starts.

The costs for dealing with such a widespread disease can be significant. The most recent figures state that:

  • Diagnosed diabetes in the United States in 2012 cost a total of $245 billion
  • $176 billion was for direct medical costs
  • $69 billion was due to reduced productivity

What are the Symptoms of Diabetes?

The symptoms of diabetes are varied, and sometimes they can be extremely subtle – so much so that they may seem harmless at first. However, complications can arise over time, which is why it’s important to recognize these symptoms early and seek treatment if necessary.

The most common symptoms include:

  • Being extremely thirsty and urinating frequently – As excess glucose builds up in the blood, the kidneys have to work harder to filter it out. If the kidneys can’t manage the stress, the excess sugar is expelled in the urine. The increased frequency of urination leads to dehydration, which builds thirst, which starts the cycle of drinking and urinating even more.
  • Extreme hunger and fatigue – When glucose can’t make it to the cells of your body (to deliver energy) it will leave you feeling constantly hungry. As the level of dehydration increases, the body won’t be able to function properly, leaving you feeling extremely tired or fatigued, as well.
  • Unexplained weight loss – Type 1 diabetes will cause the body to lose so much sugar through frequent urination that it will also lose a lot of calories.
  • Losing feeling or having a tingling sensation in the feet – Too much glucose in the blood can cause nerve damage. This may become apparent with tingling or loss of sensation in the hands and feet, or even a burning pain in the arms, hands, and legs.
  • Dry, cracking skin – There are several forms of bacterial infections that afflict people with diabetes. This could include boils, styes, folliculitus, carbuncles, and more.
  • Sores or infections that heal slowly – High levels of glucose can impare the body’s natural healing ability. It also makes it harder to fight infections.
  • Sudden vision changes – High levels of blood sugar will pull fluids from other tissues in the body, including the eyes. This can hinder your ability to focus.
  • Nausea, vomiting, or stomach pain – Type 1 diabetes has the potential to cause a variety of stomach pains and sicknesses.

Not everyone suffers all these symptoms, and some will be more obvious than others, but it’s important to pay attention to your health and, if you begin to experience these things, seek out help.

What are the Different Types of Diabetes?

There are different types of diabetes that are characterized by different factors and must sometimes receive different types of treatment. These are:

Type 1 Diabetes – This form of the condition is characterized by the loss of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. In other words, the body does not make insulin. This most often happens in children and young adults, but it could still occur at any age.

Currently, around 5% of the people with diabetes have Type 1, and while there is no preventative measures (if the pancreas doesn’t work, it doesn’t work) that can be used on it, there are many treatments that will help to control the condition.

Type 2 Diabetes – This is the most common form of the disease, and it is most characterized by insulin resistance. Meaning, it’s not that the body doesn’t produce insulin, it’s just that it doesn’t use it effectively. At first, the pancreas will attempt to keep up with the body’s needs, but over time it won’t be able to make enough to keep the blood glucose at the correct level.

Type 2 diabetes risk factors include age, obesity, a family history of the condition, and level of physical activity. There are things you can do to prevent or lower your risk of getting this form of diabetes, and are at higher risk of type 2 if you are older, obese, have family history of diabetes or do not exercise.

Prediabetes – Sometimes blood glucose levels are higher than they should be but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. This is called prediabetes, and it is preventable. Once this condition has been diagnosed, there is still time to delay the onset of diabetes by losing weight and increasing physical activity.

Gestational Diabetes – This condition only occurs in about 2% to 10% of pregnancies. An expecting mother, who has never been diagnosed with diabetes, may develop the condition during her pregnancy. Women who have gestational diabetes have a 35% to 60% chance to have an onset of mostly type 2 diabetes within the next 20 years.

There are a small percentage of other types of diabetes accounting for 1 to 5% of diagnosed cases. These types are usually the result of specific genetic syndromes, surgery, drugs, malnutrition, infections or other illnesses.

Potential Complications

There are risks of long-term complications with all forms of diabetes. Many of these complications won’t develop for many years (10 to 20 years in most cases), so it is important to watch carefully and treat any symptoms as they begin to appear. According to the statistics from the American Diabetes Association, there is cause for concern and for getting treated early.

Heart disease and stroke – Diabetes can significantly raise the risk of various cardiovascular problems, making heart disease and stroke much more likely. Adults with diabetes have heart disease death rates that are around 2 to 4 times higher than those without. The same numbers apply to the risk for stroke.

High blood pressure – Along those same lines, between 2005 and 2008, 67% of diabetic adults over the age of 20 had high blood pressure or needed to take prescription medication for hypertension.

Retinopathy – This is a fancy word for blindness. Diabetes can potentially damage the blood vessels of the retina, which makes it the leading cause of new cases of blindness in adults between 20 and 74 years old. Between 2005 and 2008, 4.2 million diabetics over 40 had retinopathy related to their condition.

Kidney damage – Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure because it can easily damage the clusters of blood vessels in there that are meant to filter waste from your blood. It accounted for 44% of the new cases of kidney disease in 2008.

Neuropathy – Nerve damage is a real problem with diabetes. Too much blood glucose can damage the walls of the small capillaries that deliver blood to the nerves. About 60% to 70% of diabetics have some form of nervous system damage, ranging from mild to severe cases. It could cause tingling sensations in the outer extremities, but it could eventually lead to a loss of all feeling in the affected limbs.

Osteoporosis – Diabetes can potentially reduce bone mineral density, which can increase the chances of osteoporosis.

Amputation – The amount of nerve damage and other complications can lead to amputations. More than 60% of non-traumatic lower-limb amputations were performed on people with diabetes, which equates to tens of thousands of amputations each year.

Lifestyle, Prevention, and Treatment

There are a number of actions you can take to prevent or lower your risk of diabetes. People who are already dealing with the condition can also do many things to control the disease and live a more active life. It can, certainly, be frustrating and difficult at times, but with a little support and some real dedication, you can minimize your risks or manage your condition. You can start by:

  • Getting more physically active – Set some goals to lose weight and get plenty of aerobic exercise. Staying active will help you lower your blood sugar and boost your sensitivity to insulin.
  • Getting plenty of fiber – Fiber is a natural way to control blood sugar levels, lower the risk of heart disease, and help lose weight by making you feel fuller longer.
  • Healthy eating – You are going to have to think about what you’re eating and be sure to get lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Skipping fad diets– These diets are most often focused on certain types of eating programs. However, if you’re not getting enough exercise, you may be losing too much muscle with the fat – muscle that normally helps burn the visceral fat and controls blood sugar.
    • This has led to a growing instance of young, slim people getting type 2 diabetes more frequently. They are losing some fat on the outside, but there is still some fat holding onto the internal organs, causing inflammatory substances to affect the pancreas and lower insulin sensitivity.
    • Monitoring your blood sugar – This will change depending on your individual treatment plan, you should regularly check your blood sugar and make sure things are within expected norms. This will help you learn what to expect after certain activities and different foods, and you can start to adjust your lifestyle accordingly.
    • Starting the right medications – Insulin is the hormone that helps glucose get into your cells and gives them energy. We need it to convert sugar, starches, and other foods into energy. If the body isn’t producing it, or doesn’t seem to know what to do with it, then it’s have to get proactive about treatment.

What to Do in the Event of an Emergency

People with diabetes should keep an emergency kit with supplies within easy reach. Depending on the type of diabetes you have, or how you control, you may require different things in your kit. A supply of oral medication, insulin, insulin delivery equipment, lancets and a source of glucose that can act quickly are pretty standard components of these kits, but you should always consult with your doctor to see if you need anything else. You should also always wear a medical alert bracelet or tag in case anything extreme should happen. That way, responders will know immediately what they need to do to provide the appropriate care for you.

Live Happy and Healthy

Diabetes is not a death sentence. It may be frustrating at times, but by following a few simple steps and staying on top of any complications, people with diabetes can lead a normal life. It may seem frustrating at times, but if you work at it, you can minimize your own risk or keep the condition under control.