Detecting Diabetes

By Christine Stirparo, published December 2, 2016 by

How to look for, prevent and maintain this rapidly growing disease

Diabetes is on the rise; over 21 million Americans are currently diagnosed with the metabolic disease, according to the 2014 Center of Disease Control (CDC) National Diabetes Statistics Report. This statistic, coupled with the eight million undiagnosed cases illustrates the serious diabetic trend currently impacting the United States. In honor of National Diabetes Month, Pacific Medical Center's newcomer Registered Dietician Christine Stirparo discusses the biology, causes, and prevention methods of diabetes.

1. What are some of the main contributing factors to developing diabetes?

The exact factors of diabetes are still unclear, but we do know that there are certain risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing diabetes. In Type 1, genes play a very large roll, and that's why it's most often diagnosed in children and young adults. There are also environmental factors and even sometimes viral infections that can contribute to developing Type 1. In Type 2, there are two different kinds of risk factors: those you can control (physical activity level, weight, diet) and those you cannot (family history, ethnicity and age). Your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes increases as you age and if you have a parent or sibling diagnosed with Type 2. In the U.S., diabetes also tends to appear in higher numbers within certain ethnic groups, such as Native American Indians, African Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans. In relation to the military, sometimes it can be difficult for military personnel and their families to maintain a healthy weight due to the stresses of deployment and relocation - which can increase diabetes risk by wreaking havoc on their diet and exercise routine.

2. What risks are associated with being diagnosed with diabetes?

In diabetes, glucose (sugar) stays in the blood instead of being converted to energy for the cells. This results in blood sugar rising to unsafe levels, causing damage to arteries, which in turn can damage your nerves, kidneys and eyes.  High blood sugar can also increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Another complication related to diabetes is having low blood sugar, which can cause fainting and require medical attention.

3. Are there any signs or symptoms people should be aware of that may be indicators of diabetes?

Some of the most common signs are extreme thirst, frequent urination, and unexplained weight loss. Also, blurred vision, fatigue, and wounds that won't heal are other symptoms that may indicate diabetes. Nausea and vomiting, labored breathing and flushed, hot skin can be symptoms of Type 1 diabetes, especially in children. Some people may not notice these symptoms, which is why having routine check-ups at the doctor is imperative, especially for those with risk factors for diabetes.

4. Can you explain the major differences between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes?

In Type 1, the body makes little or no insulin, and in Type 2, the body still produces insulin, but the body does not respond to it appropriately. Type 2 has a variety of factors that can contribute to its development, such as cells not responding to insulin, kidney and liver function relating to blood sugar not working correctly, or limited insulin production. There are also differences in treatment: with Type 1 requiring insulin injections and Type 2 being managed by a healthy diet and exercise, although oral medications and insulin injections may be needed as well.

5. What preventative measures can be taken to ensure one does not develop diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented, unfortunately. However, Type 2 diabetes can be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight and being active. The recommended amount of physical activity is 150 minutes per week, which can include anything from high intensity exercise to walking or gardening. Any activity that gets the heart rate elevated can be counted as physical activity. It should also be noted that although there is no cure for Type 1 and 2 diabetes, a diagnosis of prediabetes is reversible. Prediabetes puts you at a higher risk for developing Type 2, but you can return your blood sugar levels to normal by getting adequate exercise and limiting your intake of sweets and high carbohydrate foods.

6. If someone is diagnosed with diabetes, what changes or improvements can they make to lessen the negative effects of it?

For both types, regularly checking your blood sugar at home will let you know how your body is responding to certain foods and exercises, which allows you to tailor your routines to better suit your body's responses. Focusing on consuming a lot of vegetables and whole grain products is recommended as well.

7. Is there anything else you would like people to know about diabetes?

Individuals have more power over this disease than they may realize. Self-management techniques such as testing blood sugar levels, getting adequate physical activity and following a healthy diet greatly reduces developing serious complications at a later time.

Christine Stirparo is a registered dietitian working at PacMed's Beacon Hill, Federal Way and Renton clinics.