Diabetes Awareness—Don’t Sugar-coat It

A diabetes diagnosis can be scary. If your doctor tells you you’re at risk for developing diabetes, you should take it very seriously. But there are ways you can start living healthier right away. If you already have diabetes, you can control it and be a healthy person living with diabetes. Learn more about the types of diabetes, the warning signs and how you can reduce your chance of developing it, or managing your diabetes better.

What is Diabetes?

When you have diabetes, your body has trouble using sugar (glucose) in the blood. This leads to too much sugar in your blood.

Types of Diabetes

Type 1
The body does not make enough insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps the cells in your body to use the sugar in your blood. Many people with type 1 diabetes need an insulin shot every day.

Type 2
The body makes insulin, but the insulin does not work the way it is should. Type 2 diabetes often is linked to obesity.

Gestational Diabetes
High blood sugar in a pregnant woman who has never had diabetes.

How Do I Know if I Have Diabetes?

Diabetes Warning Signs

If you are experiencing one or more of the following symptoms, tell your doctor:

  • Needing to use the bathroom (pass urine) more often
  • Feeling very hungry and thirsty
  • Feeling very tired
  • Blurry vision
  • Cuts and bruises take longer to heal

Are You at Risk?

Type 1
In this type of diabetes, which usually starts in childhood, the body does not produce insulin. The main things that lead to it are …

  • Family history. If you have relatives with diabetes, chances are greater you’ll get it, too. Anyone who has a mother, father, sister or brother with type 1 diabetes should get checked. A simple blood test can diagnose it.
  • Diseases of the pancreas. These conditions, such as pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer, can slow the ability of the pancreas to make insulin.
  • Infection or illness. Some infections and illnesses, mostly rare ones, can damage your pancreas.

Type 2
If you have this kind, your body can’t use the insulin it makes. This is called insulin resistance. Type 2 usually affects adults, but it can begin at any time in your life. The main things that lead to it are …

  • Obesity or being overweight. Research shows this is a top reason for type 2 diabetes. Because of the rise in obesity among U.S. children, this type is affecting more teenagers.
  • Impaired glucose tolerance. Prediabetes is a milder form of this condition. It can be diagnosed with a simple blood test. If you have it, there’s a strong chance you’ll get type 2 diabetes.
  • Insulin resistance. Type 2 diabetes often starts with cells that are resistant to insulin. That means your pancreas has to work extra-hard to make enough insulin to meet your body’s needs.
  • Ethnic background. Diabetes happens more often in Hispanic/Latino Americans, African-Americans, Native Americans, Asian-Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Alaska natives.
  • High blood pressure. Blood pressure over 140/90 is associated with a higher risk of diabetes.
  • Low levels of HDL. HDL is known as (“good”) cholesterol. Low HDL levels and high levels of triglycerides are associated with increased risk of diabetes.
  • Gestational diabetes. If you had diabetes while you were pregnant, you had gestational diabetes. This raises your chances of getting type 2 diabetes later in life.
  • Sedentary lifestyle. If you exercise less than three times a week, you may be putting yourself at risk for diabetes.
  • Family history. Those with a parent or sibling who has diabetes are at increased risk of developing diabetes, too.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome. Women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) have a higher risk.
  • Age. If you’re over 45 and overweight or if you have symptoms of diabetes, talk to your doctor about a simple screening test.

First Line of Defense: Weight, Diet and Exercise

Losing extra pounds, eating better and becoming more active are some of the most important steps you can take. There are people who aren’t overweight who have type 2 diabetes, but added pounds do put you at risk. In one study, being overweight or obese was the single most important thing that predicted who would get diabetes. The study results showed that over 16 years, regular exercise—at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week—and a low-fat, high-fiber diet helped prevent diabetes. So, let’s get started …

Shed Some Pounds

Healthy weight loss isn’t just about a “diet” or “program.” It’s about an ongoing lifestyle that includes long-term changes in daily eating and exercise habits. Eating healthy food is important, but you also need to pay attention to how much food you eat. Try these small changes that can make a big difference.

  • Start the day with a healthy breakfast.
  • Eat small, healthy snacks during the day. This will keep you from overeating at mealtimes.
  • Read the label to find out how many servings are in a package. There may be more than one!
  • Put a serving of food in a bowl instead of eating out of the package or container.
  • Serve food on plates and leave the main dish on the stove. You will be less tempted to go back for seconds.
  • If you are eating out, only eat half of your meal. Take the other half home.
  • Eat slowly—this will give you time to feel when you are full.
  • Don’t eat in front of the TV. It’s harder to keep track of how much you are eating.

Eat a Healthy Diet

Eating healthy means getting enough vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients—and limiting unhealthy foods and drinks. Eating healthy also means getting the number of calories that’s right for you (not eating too much or too little).

To eat healthy, be sure to get plenty of …

  • Vegetables, fruits, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat dairy products
  • Seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, beans, peas, seeds and nuts

It’s also important to limit …

  • Sodium (salt)
  • Added sugars like refined (regular) sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup and honey
  • Saturated fats, which come from animal products like cheese, fatty meats, whole milk and butter, and plant products like palm and coconut oils
  • Trans fats, which may be in foods including stick margarines, coffee creamers and some desserts
  • Refined grains which are in foods like cookies, white bread and some snack foods

Get Active!

Lots of people struggle to fit physical activity into their busy lives. If you or someone you care about is having a hard time getting active, here are some tips to get you started.

Do these activities alone or with a friend:

  • Start small. Try taking a walk after dinner twice a week, or do crunches (sit-ups) while you watch TV.
  • Mix it up. Learn new stretches and warm-up exercises.
  • Join a fitness class at the Life Center or local YMCA, or both with a PATH Membership.
  • Enjoy nature while taking a walk along the Swamp Rabbit Trail.

Make exercise part of your regular routine:

  • Meet a friend at the local gym or recreation center on your way home from work.
  • Wake up a bit earlier so you can go for a brisk walk before breakfast.
  • Pick a certain time for physical activity, like right after your favorite TV show.
  • Ride your bike or walk to the store or coffee shop.

For information or ongoing support with diabetes management contact our Diabetes Self-Management Program at (864) 455-4003.

Additional Resources

Greenville Health System endocrinologists specialize in treating disorders of the endocrine system, such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and many other conditions and diseases relating to the pituitary, thyroid, adrenals, ovaries, testes, and pancreas. In 2010, GHS endocrinology service was rated as one of the top 50 programs in the country by U.S. News.

Learn more about Endocrinology and Diabetes Services at Greenville Health System.