Not Your Type

How you can prevent Diabetes, an epidemic on the rise



Health Risks for Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes

The prevalence of Type 2 Diabetes in the U.S. population is reaching epidemic proportions. According to the Centers for Disease Control, if current trends continue, one out of every of three adults will have diabetes by the year 2050. Perhaps no other condition has the potential to influence so many lives. If not prevented or controlled, diabetes can reduce life expectancy, cause blindness, kidney failure, and in extreme cases the disease may necessitate amputation of extremities.

So we asked Dr. Elizabeth Mason, a Virginia Beach physician who practices primarily in the areas of internal medicine and endocrinology, for advice.

What should we know about Type 2 Diabetes?

Mason: Diabetes is correctly referred to as type 1 or type 2. Type 1 means absolute insulin deficiency typically caused by autoimmune destruction of the part of the pancreas that produces insulin. It may start when a person is young, but it can occur at any age. Type 2 refers to a more complex illness in terms of cause. What causes type 2? The body produces some, but not enough, insulin. Both illnesses have in common high sugars and the same consequences if the sugar stays too high. Type 2 diabetes is becoming increasingly prevalent in the adolescent population. Not long ago it was very rare to meet an adolescent with this disorder. Overall, the prevalence of type 2 diabetes in the U.S. has doubled in the last 30 years.

What are some warning signs, and should everyone be tested for Type 2?

Mason: Some warning signs of type 2 are: thirst, frequent urination, blurry vision, frequent yeast infections and frequent skin infections (boils, for example). However, type 2 is very often silent; it is estimated that 50 percent of the U.S. population may have this disorder yet be unaware of it. In terms of screening, much has been written about it. The American Diabetes Association recommends testing for diabetes in all adults with a body mass index over 25 kg/m2 and who have one additional risk factor for diabetes. The ADA also recommends that individuals without risk factors begin testing at age 45, and if results prove normal, repeat test every three years.

What are some risk factors for Type 2 diabetes?

Mason: A very active area of research is on the type 2 diabetes genes. Type 2 diabetes is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The lifetime risk of developing type 2 diabetes is five to 10 times higher if a person has a first-degree relative (sister, brother, son, daughter) with diabetes, compared to a person with no family history of diabetes.

Also, the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes is greater in certain ethnic groups, such as people of Hispanic, African-American, Native American, Pacific Islander and Asian-American descent. Environmental factors, including what you eat and how active you are, when combined with genetic causes, influence the risk. A small number (about 3 to 5 percent) of pregnant women develop diabetes during pregnancy; this is called “gestational diabetes.” Gestational diabetes is similar to type 2 diabetes, but it usually resolves after the woman delivers her baby.

Other risk factors: Age, hypertension (blood pressure greater than140/90), high-density lipoprotein cholesterol less than 35 or triglycerides over 250. Also, a prior event of high sugar, polycystic ovary disease or history of vascular disease.

How is type 2 managed?

Mason: Type 2 diabetes can be managed with lifestyle changes including proper diet and exercise. It may also be managed with medication—there is a growing list of medications in pill form that reduce blood sugar. With injectable meds, insulin and other agents are used.

What are a few simple things we can all do now to lessen the possibility that we will fall victim to Type 2?

Mason: 

  • Exercise, exercise and exercise. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. 
  • Regulate diet to lose weight if obese. Even a small amount of weight loss can help prevent diabetes.
  • Certain medications can be used to prevent type 2 diabetes, some being the same meds that we use to treat it. That being said, all medications are less effective than exercise and diet in preventing type 2 diabetes.