Diabetes is a group of diseases that affect how your body uses sugars in the blood, called blood glucose or blood sugar. Diabetes affects more than 20 million Americans of all ages. It is estimated that 12.2 million of those affected are over the age of 60. Diabetes is a lifelong (chronic) disease and, like many other diseases, the risk of developing diabetes increases as a person ages.
To understand how diabetes works, one needs to have an idea of how the digestive system works. When food is eaten, the body breaks it down to turn it in to energy for the body to use. This is called digestion. During digestion, glucose enters the bloodstream. The glucose that is produced during digestion is used by the body for fuel. An important part of the digestive process is what happens in an organ called the pancreas which is a gland deep in the abdomen that produces insulin. Insulin is the hormone that controls glucose levels in the blood. Its role in digestion is helping to move the glucose from the bloodstream to the fat, liver and muscle cells where it can be stored for energy. When a person has diabetes, there are high levels of glucose in the bloodstream because their body cannot properly move glucose to the cells where it is stored. This can happen as a result of the cells not responding normally to the insulin that is produced, there is not enough insulin being produced or that both of these things are occurring simultaneously.
There are two major types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 most often occurs in children, teens, and young adults. When a person has Type 1 diabetes, daily insulin injections are needed because the body produces little or no insulin. Type 2 The most common type of diabetes and usually occurs during adulthood. It generally develops slowly and many people have a form of Type 2 diabetes, referred to as pre-diabetes. As a result, most people are unaware that theyeven have it. If left unchecked, diabetes can lead to serious health problems such as:
- Eye problems, including blindness, light sensitivity and poor night vision
- Painful sores and infections on the feet and legs
- Removal of feet or legs (amputation) due to severe infection that will not heal
- Heart failure, arrhythmias and other cardiovascular conditions
- Nerve damage causing tingling, pain, and loss of feeling in parts of the body
- Problems with digestion and going to the bathroom due to nerve damage
Due to the fact that Type 1 diabetes has different symptoms and usually occurs in children, teens and young adults, it is not considered a major issue of aging as compared to Type 2 diabetes. Researchers don’t know why some people develop Type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes while others do not, however, some risk factors may include:
- Weight. While not everyone is overweight, it is the most common risk factor for developing diabetes. Fatty tissues in the body make the body’s cells more resistant to insulin. The more fatty tissue a person has, the more resistant their cells are. Eating healthy can help to lower the risks of developing diabetes.
- Family History. If one’s parent or sibling has had diabetes, it is more likely that this person will develop it as well.
- Inactivity. The less active a person is, the more at risk they become for developing diabetes. Physical activity can help to reduce the risk of developing diabetes by controlling a person’s weight. Exercising can help the body burn up the glucose that was stored for energy and makes the cells more sensitive to insulin.
- Age. As a person ages they are more at risk for developing diabetes. This is possibly because they are less active, have lost muscle mass and/or have gained weight over time.
- Race. It is unclear why certain races are affected more than others, however, Hispanics, Native American Indians, Asians and African Americans are all have a higher risk of developing diabetes.
- High levels of triglycerides. Fats carried in the blood are called triglycerides. If a person’s triglyceride levels are above 250mg/dL, their risk of developing diabetes increases.
- High blood pressure. While high blood pressure (hypertension) is not desirable by itself, having an average blood pressure of over 104/90mm Hg has been linked to an increased risk for developing diabetes.
- Abnormal cholesterol levels. If a person has low levels of “good” or high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the risk of diabetes is higher. A low level of good cholesterol (LDL) is defined as being below 35mg/dL.
- History of gestational diabetes. If a person has had gestational diabetes while they were pregnant, they are at a higher risk for developing diabetes later on in life. Additionally, women who have had babies weighing over nine pounds are also more at risk.
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