One of the fastest growing chronic diseases in Texas is diabetes mellitus. About 1.8 million adults in the state have been diagnosed with diabetes. The largest nutrition and health study conducted in the U.S. estimates that another 79 million Americans have prediabetes.
There are two types of diabetes mellitus. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas stops making the hormone insulin. Scientists do not know for sure what causes the immune system to attack the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. There does seem to be a combination of factors, both genetic and environmental. Type 1 diabetes usually affects children and adolescents.
If the body quits using the insulin it makes, a person develops Type 2 diabetes. Since the insulin cannot help move sugar from the blood into the cells, sugar builds up in the blood and begins to cause damage. This is called insulin resistance. Being overweight seems to contribute to insulin resistance. Type 2 diabetes also has a hereditary link.
Diabetes can lead to damage in all areas of the body. As the amount of sugar in the blood increases, the blood gets thicker and almost “sticky.” This “sticky” blood gums up the smallest blood vessels in the hands, feet, heart, brain, eyes and kidneys. This causes problems with circulation in these areas.
Other complications common to diabetes include:
- higher risk of heart disease and stroke,
- higher risk of kidney disease,
- higher risk of eye disease leading to blindness,
- higher risk of amputation,
- higher risk of serious infection, and
- longer healing times.
- People with the highest risk of developing Type 2 diabetes are older adults, those with a family history of the disease, and those with African-American or Hispanic backgrounds.
While those risk factors cannot be changed, several others can be. The American Diabetes Association recommends the following:
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Eat nutritious foods.
- Get plenty of physical activity.
- Manage your blood sugar, if it is elevated.
- Manage your cholesterol.
- Quit smoking (or never start).
- Manage your blood pressure.
JULIE D. WRIGHT is a health technician with Denton County Health Department. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.