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“It’s not like you wake up one day and all of a sudden you’re thirsty, hungry, and [going to the bathroom] all the time,” says Melissa Joy Dobbins, RD, a certified diabetes educator in Illinois and a spokesperson for the American Association of Diabetes Educators. “It picks up gradually.” Indeed, “most people are unaware that they have diabetes in its early or even middle phases,” says Aaron Cypess, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and staff physician at Joslin Diabetes Center. Just because you’re not keyed in doesn’t mean you’re immune from problems associated with diabetes, he adds. The longer you go without controlling diabetes, the greater your risk for heart disease, kidney disease, amputation, blindness, and other serious complications. “We recommend that people with risk factors for diabetes, such as a family history or being overweight, get evaluated on a regular basis,” Dr. Cypess says. If you’ve been feeling off, talk to your doctor about getting a simple blood test that can diagnose the disease. And pay attention to these subtle signs and symptoms of diabetes.
Using insulin to get blood glucose levels to a healthy level is a good thing, not a bad one. For most people, type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease. When first diagnosed, many people with type 2 diabetes can keep their blood glucose at a healthy level with a combination of meal planning, physical activity, and taking oral medications. But over time, the body gradually produces less and less of its own insulin, and eventually oral medications may not be enough to keep blood glucose levels in a healthy range.
Glucagon is a hormone that causes the release of glucose from the liver (for example, it promotes gluconeogenesis). Glucagon can be lifesaving and every patient with diabetes who has a history of hypoglycemia (particularly those on insulin) should have a glucagon kit. Families and friends of those with diabetes need to be taught how to administer glucagon, since obviously the patients will not be able to do it themselves in an emergency situation. Another lifesaving device that should be mentioned is very simple; a medic-alert bracelet should be worn by all patients with diabetes.
In an otherwise healthy individual, blood glucose levels usually do not rise above 180 mg/dL (9 mmol/L). In a child with diabetes, blood sugar levels rise if insulin is insufficient for a given glucose load. The renal threshold for glucose reabsorption is exceeded when blood glucose levels exceed 180 mg/dL (10 mmol/L), causing glycosuria with the typical symptoms of polyuria and polydipsia. (See Pathophysiology, Clinical, and Treatment.)
Type 2 diabetes is most common is those who are genetically predisposed and who are overweight, lead a sedentary lifestyle, have high blood pressure, and/or have insulin resistance due to excess weight. People of certain ethnicities are more likely to develop diabetes, too. These include: African Americans, Mexican Americans, American Indians, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, and Asian Americans. These populations are more likely to be overweight and have high blood pressure, which increases the risk of developing diabetes.