How to Avoid Being Part of the Growing Diabetes 'Epidemic'

hands testing blood sugar levels

The rapid growth of Americans with diabetes has reached epidemic proportions. About 10 percent of the U.S. population has diabetes, making it the seventh leading cause of death in the country, says the American Diabetes Association. Equally scary, 28 percent of Americans with diabetes don’t even know they have it.

“The alarming rise of diabetes can be attributed to massively increased rates of obesity and an aging population,” says podiatrist Windy Cole, DPM, Medical Director of the Wound Care Clinic at UH Ahuja Medical Center. “Diabetes carries with it a devastating physical, emotional and financial toll. And we are seeing a whole segment of Americans, age 18 and older, who are pre-diabetic or have type 2 diabetes.”

Diabetes is the condition that results from lack of insulin in a person’s blood or when the body has a problem using the insulin it produces. The warning signs and symptoms include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Hunger
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent urination
  • Weight loss
  • Tingling or numbness in the feet
  • Blurred vision

People with very high blood sugar can experience rapid breathing, dry skin, fruity breath and nausea.

Factors that put people at risk for developing diabetes include:

  • Carrying excess fat in the upper body area and around the waist
  • Obesity
  • Having a parent, brother or sister with type 2 diabetes
  • Physical inactivity
  • Having gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) or giving birth to a baby who weighed more than 9 pounds
  • Being of African American, Hispanic/Latino American, American Indian or Alaska native descent

Being tested for diabetes and following treatment if you have the disease is critical for long-term health, Dr. Cole says.

“Diabetes progresses slowly and if you catch it early, you can do a lot to prevent serious health problems," Dr. Cole says.

Diabetes can cause serious health problems such as recurrent infections and ulcerations, nerve damage, numbness in the feet, blindness, skin problems, kidney failure, heart disease, stroke and gangrene, which can result in lower limb amputations, she says. 

 Because of these health issues, people with diabetes have a reduced life expectancy.

How to Prevent Complications From Diabetes

The good news is if you're diagnosed as pre-diabetic or have diabetes, you can make lifestyle changes that can delay or prevent the onset of diabetes complications. Dr. Cole says these include:

  • Maintain a healthy body mass index. Every 2.2 pounds of weight lost reduces your diabetes risk by 16 percent.
  • Eat a low-fat diet. Fill your plate with fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, lean meats, fish and chicken.
  • Avoid certain foods. Processed, refined carbohydrates and foods rich in saturated fats and sugar should be avoided.
  • Stay hydrated. Skip the sugar-sweetened beverages and drink water throughout the day.
  • Daily exercise. Get off the couch and get involved in regular physical activity that will help your body use insulin more efficiently.
  • Reduce stress. Learn ways to chill. The stress response triggers the release of hormones that increase blood sugar levels.
  • Get a full night’s rest. Sleep deprivation can cause obesity, which leads to an increased risk of diabetes.
  • Commit to self-care. See your doctor regularly and never missed prescribed medication.

Having seen how diabetes affects her patients’ feet and overall health, Dr. Cole is emphatic about shining a light on this problem.

“The number of people with diabetes is high now, but these numbers will skyrocket in the coming years if people don’t understand how serious this illness is and take steps to protect themselves from being part of this growing epidemic,” she says.

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Request an appointment with Dr. Cole or any other University Hospitals doctor online.