Don’t be alarmed: This is not diabetic retinopathy, where the blood vessels in the back of the eye are getting destroyed, says Dr. Cypess. In the early stages of diabetes, the eye lens is not focusing well because glucose builds up in the eye, which temporarily changes its shape. “You’re not going blind from diabetes,” Dr. Cypess says he assures patients. “In about six to eight weeks after your blood sugars are stabilized, you’re not going to feel it anymore; the eye will adjust.” Here are more surprising facts you never knew about diabetes.
In addition to learning about diabetes itself, older people may have to learn how to fit management of diabetes in with their management of other disorders. Learning about how to avoid complications, such as dehydration, skin breakdown, and circulation problems, and to manage factors that can contribute to complications of diabetes, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, is especially important. Such problems become more common as people age, whether they have diabetes or not.
In type 2 diabetes (adult onset diabetes), the pancreas makes insulin, but it either doesn't produce enough, or the insulin does not work properly. Nine out of 10 people with diabetes have type 2. This type occurs most often in people who are over 40 years old but can occur even in childhood if there are risk factors present. Type 2 diabetes may sometimes be controlled with a combination of diet, weight management and exercise. However, treatment also may include oral glucose-lowering medications (taken by mouth) or insulin injections (shots).
Diabetes is a chronic condition, and it can last an entire lifetime. The goal of treating diabetes is to keep blood glucose levels as close to a normal range as possible. This prevents the symptoms of diabetes and the long-term complications of the condition. If you've been diagnosed with diabetes, your doctor – working with the members of your diabetes care team – will help you find your target blood glucose levels.
But the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines recommend keeping added sugar below 10 percent of your overall daily caloric intake. And the American Heart Association suggests consuming no more than 9 teaspoons (tsp) — equal to 36 grams (g) or 150 calories — of added sugar if you're a man, and 6 tsp — equal to 25 g or 100 calories — if you're a woman. "Naturally occurring sugars don't count in these recommendations," notes Grieger, which means you should worry less about those sugars in fruits and veggies, for instance, than you should about those in processed fare.
If you are at increased risk of diabetes, have symptoms of diabetes, or have pre-diabetes (a major warning sign for diabetes), your doctor will check to see if you have diabetes. Your doctor may also check to see if you have diabetes if you are over the age of 45, have a family history of the disease, are overweight, or if you are at increased risk for another reason. The tests used to check for diabetes are the same tests used to check for pre-diabetes.
Pre-clinical diabetes refers to the time during which destruction of pancreatic insulin-producing cells is occurring, but symptoms have not yet developed. This period may last for months to years. Normally, 80-90% of the pancreatic beta cells must be destroyed before any symptoms of diabetes develops. During this time, blood tests can identify some immunological markers of pancreatic cell destruction. However, there is currently no known treatment to prevent progression of pre-clinical diabetes to true diabetes mellitus.
Commonly, diabetic patients’ random blood glucose measurement will be greater than 200 mg/dL. Additionally, diabetic patients’ urinalysis will be positive for greater than 30 mg/g of microalbumin on at least two of three consecutive sampling dates. Type 2 diabetics who have had diabetes mellitus for more than 2 years will usually have a fasting C-peptide level greater than 1.0 ng/dL. Patients with type 1 diabetes will have islet cell and anti-insulin autoantibodies present in their blood within 6 months of diagnosis. These antibodies, though, usually fade after 6 months.
Diabetes mellitus (“diabetes”) and hypertension, which commonly coexist, are global public health issues contributing to an enormous burden of cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, and premature mortality and disability. The presence of both conditions has an amplifying effect on risk for microvascular and macrovascular complications.1 The prevalence of diabetes is rising worldwide (Fig. 37.1). Both diabetes and hypertension disproportionately affect people in middle and low-income countries, and an estimated 70% of all cases of diabetes are found in these countries.2,3 In the United States alone, the total costs of care for diabetes and hypertension in the years 2012 and 2011 were 245 and 46 billion dollars, respectively.4,5 Therefore, there is a great potential for meaningful health and economic gains attached to prevention, detection, and intervention for diabetes and hypertension.
The genes identified so far in people with type 2 include many that affect the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas, says Craig Hanis, PhD, a professor at the Human Genetics Center at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. And yet he emphasizes that why people get type 2 isn't at all clear yet: "What it tells us is that diabetes is a complicated disease."
Diabetes also can cause heart disease and stroke, as well as other long-term complications, including eye problems, kidney disease, nerve damage, and gum disease. While these problems don't usually show up in kids or teens who've had type 2 diabetes for only a few years, they can affect them in adulthood, particularly if their diabetes isn't well controlled.
Insulin is only recommended for individuals for type 2 diabetics when they have not been able to get blood sugars low enough to prevent complications through other means. To avoid insulin, those with this health condition should work very hard to follow a healthy eating plan that includes a lot of vegetables and lean proteins, exercise every day, and keep stress in perspective. They also should take their oral drugs regularly. It can be difficult to follow these recommendations and the help of your doctor, nutritionist, diabetes educator, health coach, or integrative medicine practitioner may be helpful. If you who want to avoid taking medicine, work with health professionals who are knowledgeable about lifestyle medicine, and can help you understand how to fit the changes into your life.
Persons with diabetes who take insulin must be careful about indulging in unplanned exercise. Strenuous physical activity can rapidly lower their blood sugar and precipitate a hypoglycemic reaction. For a person whose blood glucose level is over 250 mg/dl, the advice would be not to exercise at all. At this range, the levels of insulin are too low and the body would have difficulty transporting glucose into exercising muscles. The result of exercise would be a rise in blood glucose levels.
Type 2 diabetes typically starts with insulin resistance. That is, the cells of the body resist insulin’s efforts to escort glucose into the cells. What causes insulin resistance? It appears to be caused by an accumulation of microscopic fat particles within muscle and liver cells.4 This fat comes mainly from the diet—chicken fat, beef fat, cheese fat, fish fat, and even vegetable fat. To try to overcome insulin resistance, the pancreas produces extra insulin. When the pancreas can no longer keep up, blood sugar rises. The combination of insulin resistance and pancreatic cell failure leads to type 2 diabetes.
Patients with Type I diabetes need daily injections of insulin to help their bodies use glucose. The amount and type of insulin required depends on the height, weight, age, food intake, and activity level of the individual diabetic patient. Some patients with Type II diabetes may need to use insulin injections if their diabetes cannot be controlled with diet, exercise, and oral medication. Injections are given subcutaneously, that is, just under the skin, using a small needle and syringe. Injection sites can be anywhere on the body where there is looser skin, including the upper arm, abdomen, or upper thigh.
Good metabolic control can delay the onset and progression of diabetic retinopathy. Loss of vision and blindness in persons with diabetes can be prevented by early detection and treatment of vision-threatening retinopathy: regular eye examinations and timely intervention with laser treatment, or through surgery in cases of advanced retinopathy. There is evidence that, even in developed countries, a large proportion of those in need is not receiving such care due to lack of public and professional awareness, as well as an absence of treatment facilities. In developing countries, in many of which diabetes is now common, such care is inaccessible to the majority of the population.
Type 2 diabetes is a preventable disease that affects more than 9 percent of the U.S. population, or about 29 million people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than a quarter — some 8 million people — remain undiagnosed. With complications including nerve damage, kidney damage, poor blood circulation, and even death, it’s important for us all to know the early signs of type 2 diabetes.