Type 2 diabetes: It’s not a necessary diagnosis
Written by Katie Coakley
Sponsored by Kaiser Permanente
The following words are not something you want to hear from your doctor: “You have Type 2 diabetes.” It’s an unnerving diagnosis, one that is often dreaded and frequently misunderstood. But this doesn’t have to be the case. There are treatments and, more importantly, measures that you can take to prevent it.
What is Type 2 Diabetes?
Broadly speaking, diabetes refers to a disease process in which your body is unable to process sugar (or carbohydrates) properly. To better understand why diabetes causes symptoms and long-term effects, it is good to start with a general understanding of the process.
“When we eat sugar or carbohydrates, this signals our body to produce insulin from the pancreas,” said Dr. Shannon Garton, family medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente Edwards Medical Offices. “The insulin helps the sugar in our bloodstream get transferred into the cells for energy. The sugar goes into brain cells, muscle cells, heart cells, liver cells — all of the cells in our body. Once the sugar is in the cells, it is turned into energy for the cell so that it is able to function properly.”
There are two types of diabetes: Type 1 diabetes typically starts in childhood and is a result of the pancreas not being able to make insulin. This type of diabetic is always dependent on insulin injections for treatment of the disease.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when our body’s cells become resistant to insulin. This means that the body will produce two, three, even four or more times more insulin, but the cells will not respond or allow the sugar into the cells. The result is that the sugar stays floating in the blood stream where it does not belong and it’s not getting into the cells where it needs to be to produce energy.
The prevalence of diabetes in the U.S. is 9.3 percent and while Colorado as a state and Eagle County in particular has a lower percentage, the prevalence has increased over the last decade.
What causes Type 2 diabetes?
There are two types of risk factors for developing Type 2 diabetes: genetic and environmental. Genetically, if there is a close family member with diabetes, there may be an increased risk of developing diabetes, but it is not a certainty.
However, the number one modifiable risk factor for avoiding type 2 diabetes is environmental: maintain a healthy weight.
“It is also important to limit sugar intake,” said Garton. “For example, drinking two or more sugared sodas a day causes an increased risk of developing diabetes.”
It’s important to know the symptoms of diabetes. Symptoms of uncontrolled diabetes are fatigue and foggy thinking (due to the cells not getting the energy they need). But more specific symptoms are increased thirst, increased urination, increased hunger (craving sugar) and blurry vision.
“If someone is suffering these symptoms, a doctor can do a simple blood test to see if the symptoms are caused by diabetes,” Garton said.
The effects are serious
While some people may think that diabetes is simply a matter of watching your sugar intake, the long-term effects from uncontrolled diabetes are bad. Diabetes can cause heart attack or stroke. It can also cause kidney failure, blindness or neuropathy (lack of sensation or painful sensation) in the extremities.
However, Type 2 diabetes and the long-term side effects can be avoided if a person is compliant with the treatment plan. Initially, patients with Type 2 diabetes typically start on oral medications for treatment. If the oral medications are not adequate to get blood sugar under control, then the patient may need to use injectable insulin.
“Where we often run into trouble is if a patient has diabetes and does not take the treatment of the diabetes seriously,” Garton said. “Often times a patient may not think the diabetes is very serious, and may therefore not be compliant with medication and monitoring. If the patient allows the diabetes to remain out of control, then the long-term side effects will eventually develop.”
The best way to avoid diabetes is to maintain a healthy weight. Aside from maintaining a healthy weight, it is important not to over-consume sugar.
“I have seen patients who are very close to a healthy weight develop diabetes, but in discussing their diet, we come to find out that sugar is a large component,” Garton said. “Of course, part of maintaining a healthy weight is consuming a diet rich in nutrients with few ‘empty’ calories and getting plenty of exercise. Recently a term has been coined ‘sitting is the new smoking.’ The association between being overweight and developing diabetes is a reason that this adage is actually true from a medical perspective.”
So the best way to treat Type 2 diabetes? Avoid the diagnosis. Maintain a healthy weight, avoid an excess amount of sugar and get plenty of exercise.