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Healthy Balance

Diabetes on the Rise: This Month, Get to Know Your Risk

Definitely not sweet: Diabetes is a major health concern that should be controlled early on. When it comes to your health, diabetes is anything but sweet. This disease affects 25 million children and adults in the United States – and it’s on the rise.

November is National Diabetes Month, and there’s no better time than now to find out if you’re at risk. In honor of this important month, UVA School of Medicine will sponsor a free diabetes screening for the Charlottesville community on Saturday, Nov. 12 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Haven at First Market. Everyone is welcome.

Read on to learn more about diabetes, how to prevent it and how to control it if you already have it.

What Causes Diabetes?

Diabetes is a group of diseases marked by high levels of sugar in the blood resulting from defects in insulin production, the way your body uses insulin, or both. Simply put, diabetes affects the way your body uses food for growth and energy.

This can lead to serious complications (more on this below) and premature death, but people with diabetes can take steps to control the disease and lower their risk of complications.

The Mechanics Behind Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90 to 95 percent of diagnosed diabetes cases in adults. According to Mary Lou Perry, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator who’s been practicing at UVA for more than 25 years, “Most people with type 2 diabetes have two problems: the pancreas may not produce enough insulin, and the body’s fat, muscle and liver cells can’t use it effectively. This means that glucose [sugar] builds up in the blood, overflows into the urine and passes out of the body without fulfilling its role as the body’s main source of fuel.”

Symptoms of Diabetes

These are signs your body might use to alert you that diabetes is present:

  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination – for example, waking up at night to urinate more than two or three times
  • Hunger
  • Weight loss
  • Tingling in the hands and feet
  • Blurry vision
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability

Why Should I Care If I Get Diabetes?

Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to serious complications, such as:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Eye problems, including blindness
  • Kidney disease
  • Slowed digestion of food in the stomach
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Amputations
  • Dental disease
  • Nerve problems, including erectile dysfunction

Do we have your attention yet?

Know Your Diabetes Risk

Diabetes risk factors include:

  • Family history of diabetes
  • Excess weight
  • Age (45 and older)
  • History of gestational diabetes [diabetes during pregnancy] or giving birth to a baby weighing 9 pounds or more
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Limited physical activity
  • Family background of African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, Alaska native, Pacific Islander or Asian American descent
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Blood vessel problems affecting the heart, brain or legs
  • Dark, thick and velvety patches of skin around the neck and armpits

Take Action to Prevent Diabetes

Make health your top priority and follow these steps to prevent or control diabetes.

Talk to your relatives. Many type 2 diabetics have one or more family members with the disease, so find out if anyone in your family has had diabetes.

“Studies have shown that people with pre-diabetes who lose weight and increase their physical activity can prevent or delay type 2 diabetes and, in some cases, return their blood glucose to near normal,” Perry says.

Talk to your doctor. Discuss your family history with your doctor and talk about whether you should be screened.

The earlier you find out if you have diabetes, the better. Early management of blood glucose levels can mean fewer problems with your eyes, nerves, kidneys and heart down the road.

Get moving. You didn’t think we’d forget to mention good ol’ exercise, did you? As with any healthy lifestyle plan, Perry says, exercise is important in preventing and managing diabetes because it improves your blood flow.

And, with type 2 diabetes, increased blood flow allows your body to use insulin more efficiently. So get the whole family involved and go for a walk, jump rope or play basketball. Hike, jog, swim – it’s important to do what you enjoy because you’ll be more likely to stick with it and make it a part of your daily routine.

Make a healthy eating plan for the whole family.

  • Eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables.
  • Incorporate whole grains.
  • Choose fat-free or low-fat dairy products.
  • Buy lean meats such as skinless poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and beans.
  • Limit your amounts of saturated fats, trans fats [hydrogenated oils], cholesterol, salt and added sugar.
  • Stir-fry, broil or bake your food with non-stick spray or low-sodium broth, and cook with less oil and butter.
  • Make water your primary beverage. Limit sugary drinks that provide empty calories.
  • Keep healthy snacks on hand like fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts, whole grain crackers and cut, ready-to-eat vegetables. Check out these tips to find out what foods belong on your plate.

Let UVA Be Your Resource for Diabetes

A UVA registered dietitian can be your best asset in helping to prevent or manage diabetes. To arrange for an appointment with a dietitian, contact the Nutrition Counseling Center.

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