Every 17 seconds, an American is diagnosed with diabetes. This November is National Diabetes Month, a key time to strengthen awareness of diabetes and the symptoms, risks and complications of the disease. With awareness comes action — and the opportunity for people with undiagnosed diabetes to get tested and treated and for those with pre-diabetes to prevent the onset of the disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 34.2 million Americans — or just over one in 10 — have diabetes, and approximately 88 million more have prediabetes. In 2020, new cases of diabetes are higher among African Americans and Hispanic Americans. Most alarmingly, newly diagnosed cases among youth in the U.S. have increased significantly. This is truly a disease requiring our attention.
Many people with diabetes may not recognize they have the disease. It’s important to schedule an appointment with your nurse practitioner (NP) or other health care provider if you experience any of these symptoms:
Feeling famished. People with type 2 diabetes can’t utilize the insulin their body produces, and insulin is what allows both simple and complex carbohydrates in the food you eat to convert to sugar for energy. Since the body isn’t getting the energy needed to meet its demands, it responds by making you hungry in hopes you’ll eat to give it more energy.
Feeling unusually thirsty. As diabetes causes sugar to build up in the blood, your body will go into overdrive to flush out the extra sugar by removing water from your organs and muscles.
Increasing need for bathroom breaks. When your blood sugar levels increase, the kidneys will work to remove the sugar from your blood through urination.
Experiencing blurred vision. High blood sugar levels cause the eye lens to swell due to the body attempting to remove sugar from the eyes.
Itching, dry skin. With your body working to use the water in your body to remove extra sugar from the blood, it is common for people with uncontrolled diabetes to experience dry skin, which may be itchy, as well as to have a dry mouth. No matter how much water you drink or how much lotion you apply, this feeling will continue until your diabetes is treated.
Feeling exhausted. People with uncontrolled diabetes aren’t able to properly convert carbohydrates into energy. This, in turn, results in decreased energy levels, whether or not you get a good night’s sleep.
Losing weight without dietary changes. People with diabetes can’t use the carbohydrates they eat to provide their body with necessary energy. The body adapts by working to burn fat and protein to release energy stores.
If you experience symptoms, it’s time to contact your NP or another health care provider. Once diagnosed, the CDC recommends four steps to help people living with diabetes manage their condition:
- Ask your health care provider to refer you to Diabetes Self-management Education and Support (DSMES) services.
- Know your ABCs.
- A is for the A1C test.
- B is for blood pressure.
- C is for cholesterol.
- S is for smoking (avoid at all costs).
- Learn how to live well with diabetes.
- Learn coping skills.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Be physically active.
- Receive routine care to stay healthy.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, managing your diabetes is especially important, as having type 2 diabetes significantly increases your risk of severe illness from the virus.
The CDC recommends the following actions to manage your condition during the pandemic:
- Continue taking your diabetes medications and insulin as usual.
- Test your blood sugar and keep track of the results.
- Ensure that you have at least a 30-day supply of your medication.
- Follow your health care provider’s instructions if you begin feeling ill.
- Call your health care provider if you have concerns about your condition or start feeling sick.
For some people, type 2 diabetes is preventable. Eating a healthy diet, losing weight if you are overweight and getting at least 20 minutes a day of physical activity can help prevent its onset. If you have questions about diabetes or want to check whether your symptoms may be a sign of diabetes, speak to your NP or other health care provider. It’s never too early — or too late — to take action against diabetes.