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Topics > Healthy Outlook > Early Screening Can Minimize, Prevent Diabetic Symptoms

Early Screening Can Minimize, Prevent Diabetic Symptoms

Published by Contra Costa Times

Posted on Wed., September 17, 2008
By Craig Desoer, MD

(Editor´s note: This is the second part of columns on diabetes)

The previous column explained that in diabetes, sugar accumulates in the blood, either because the pancreas doesn´t secrete enough of the hormone insulin, which allows the sugar to enter the cells of the body´s organs, or because the cells of the body have become resistant to insulin.

When a person has insufficient or no insulin, their diabetes is called Type 1. This can occur at any time in a person´s life, from childhood through old age. The onset of this type of diabetes can be sudden and dramatic.

Sugar levels 10 or 12 times normal can lead to coma and death, if untreated. Type 1 diabetes is thought to be an "autoimmune" disease, in which the person´s immune system mistakes the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas as foreign, and attacks them.

Type 2 diabetes is much more common, and usually has a more gradual onset. Most Type 2 diabetics have enough insulin, but their cells are resistant to it, meaning their body fails to use it properly to allow sugar to pass from the blood into the cells.

A variety of factors can make you at more risk for developing Type 2 diabetes:

  • Genetics
  • Diet high in sugar and fat
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Certain illnesses that may result from unhealthy lifestyle choices.

Your ethnic background can put you at higher risk of developing diabetes. Asians - especially South Asians - Latinos, African-Americans, and Native Americans all have a higher risk. A family history of diabetes also puts one at higher risk.

Eating simple sugars instead of complex carbohydrates increases one's risk of becoming diabetic.

Those who rarely exercise or are overweight, especially if the excess weight is located in or around the abdomen, have a higher risk of developing diabetes.

Also, having a disease that harms the pancreas, such as pancreatitis (which can result from alcoholism), polycystic ovarian syndrome or hemochromatosis, can make you at higher risk for diabetes.

Unlike Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 diabetes can be prevented by:

  • Eating a healthful diet low in sugar
  • Not allowing yourself to become overweight
  • Exercising regularly with activities such as running, biking or walking.

Screening for diabetes is easy. All it takes is a routine blood test, usually in the morning before you have eaten breakfast or had any coffee.

If Type 2 diabetes is detected early, less drastic lifestyle changes, and possibly less medicine, may be needed to control it. Sometimes symptoms that lead to diabetes can even be caught before diabetes develops, and steps can be taken to prevent it from developing into full-on diabetes.

Untreated or inadequately treated diabetes can cause serious harm to your body. Severe nerve damage from diabetes may cause numbness of the feet and unawareness of injury.

Damage to the retina, at the back of the eye, can cause blindness. Poor circulation can prevent wounds from healing, which may lead to amputation, and can cause impotence. And, untreated Type 2 diabetes doubles your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

Make lifestyle changes early to prevent or delay diabetes, and be sure to be tested for it. Early detection and preventative measures can minimize or even prevent the damage diabetes can cause.

Desoer practices family medicine at the Pittsburg Health Center, part of Contra Costa Health Services.

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