HCN News & Notes

March 26 Is Diabetes Alert Day

SPRINGFIELD — Diabetes Alert Day on March 26 is call to action for all Americans to find out their risk of developing diabetes and, if detected early, how to prevent or delay its complications.

Today, diabetes has become much more than a disease; it is an epidemic fueled by the combination of the rise in obesity and other biological, environmental, and lifestyle factors. Looking at the numbers, 38.4 million Americans, or about 11.6% of the U.S. population, had diabetes in 2021, while 97.6 million American adults age 18 and older had prediabetes. About 1.2 million Americans are diagnosed each year.

“Diabetes is a lifelong condition in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin, a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches, and other food into energy needed for daily life and leads to high blood-sugar levels,” said Dr. Michele Gortakowski of Baystate Endocrinology and Diabetes.

There are different types of diabetes. The main two types are type-1 and type-2 diabetes. In type-1 diabetes, the pancreas does not make insulin due to an autoimmune process that damages the cells of the pancreas that make insulin. In type-2 diabetes, the pancreas is resistant to insulin and may make less insulin than it used to. Type-2 diabetes is more common, and the numbers continue to increase not only in adults, but also in children and adolescents.

Classic signs of diabetes include frequent urination, excessive thirst, extreme hunger, unusual weight loss, increased fatigue, irritability, and blurry vision. However, often there are no signs of diabetes. It is estimated that 8.7 million Americans are unaware that they have diabetes. Additionally, more than 97 million people age 18 or older have prediabetes, a condition in which blood-glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. People with prediabetes have a high risk of developing diabetes over time.

Factors that put people at higher risk for diabetes include age, high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol, being overweight, smoking, and having a family history. African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asians, and Pacific Islanders are at an increased risk, as are women who have had gestational diabetes.

Getting more exercise and losing a small amount of weight can help prevent prediabetes turning into full diabetes for those at risk. Eating healthier foods and becoming more physically active — taking a brisk walk for 30 minutes a day, five times a week, for example — can help one lose weight, feel better, and lower their risk of developing type-2 diabetes. Even small steps — losing just 5% to 7% of one’s body weight (10 to 14 pounds for a 200-pound person) — can make a big difference in preventing type-2 diabetes.

The American Diabetes Assoc. encourages people who are at risk, display symptoms, or are overweight, physically inactive, and over age 45 to take the American Diabetes Risk Test. The test asks quick simple questions about weight, age, lifestyle, and family history, all potential risk factors for type-2 diabetes. People are encouraged to see their primary-care doctor if they score 10 points or more. The risk test is available in English or Spanish at diabetes.org/diabetes-risk-test.

If diabetes is left untreated, it can lead to very destructive and even deadly complications, Gortakowski said. “Early detection is critical to successful treatment and delaying or preventing some of the complications of diabetes such as heart disease, blindness, kidney disease, stroke, amputation, and death. The chances of having diabetes complications can be reduced significantly by keeping blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels in the target range recommended by your doctor.”

In the U.S., nine out of every 10 cases of diabetes can be avoided if healthy lifestyle changes are implemented. It is possible to prevent type-2 diabetes from developing by knowing one’s risk and taking action.

Treatment includes changes in lifestyle (diet and exercise), plus medicine (if needed). Type-2 diabetes can be treated with oral medicines, insulin, and/or other injectable medicines. People with type-1 diabetes always need insulin.

“These treatments, along with healthy lifestyle choices such as a healthy diet, moderate weight loss and regular exercise, can maintain normal blood sugar levels and minimize diabetes-related complications,” Gortakowski said.