Diabetes is reaching epidemic proportions in the U.S. More than 29 million people have it. A lot of people don’t have early symptoms, says Ann Doherty, certified diabetes educator and manager at Alta Bates Summit Diabetes Center. About 8 million people are unaware they have it. “It’s a big concern,” she adds.
“By the time you go to the doctor, you may already have complications,” Doherty says. Physicians recommend regular checkups and blood work, especially if you are overweight, over 40 years old, have a family history, are under a lot of stress, or take certain medications that raise blood sugar.
About 90 percent of patients have Type 2 Diabetes, Doherty says. It’s more related to weight, diet, and stress, but the signs can be very vague, she adds. “People often complain of fatigue and being irritated but these are very non-specific and can be due to many factors.”
The other 10 percent of patients have Type 1 Diabetes, which is an auto-immune disease. “The pancreas suddenly stops making insulin and that’s why the symptoms are more pronounced and abrupt,” Doherty says. “You may be thirsty all the time, urinating a lot, feel really drained, or lose 40 pounds in a month.”
There is no combination of signs that are specific to diabetes. It varies from person to person. Many people won’t recognize any symptoms at all because blood sugar could have been increasing gradually and the body has gotten used to the small changes, Doherty says. “Patients often won’t notice the changes until their glucose levels are very high. It all depends on how self-aware people are of their ‘normal’ when they are healthy.”
People with high blood sugar usually also have high blood pressure and cholesterol, she adds. Patients who have one of these conditions should be checked for the other two as well.
“The good news is that diabetes is treatable,” Doherty says. Patients can learn to self-manage it and be very healthy. “The condition doesn’t have to interfere with your life but it does require being mindful and making good choices every day.”