A lot can happen in a year.
Chronic conditions, left unchecked and untreated, can lead to serious health issues later in life if they are not detected in time. That is particularly true of Type II diabetes, said Opada Alzohaili, MD, an endocrinologist and internal medicine specialist affiliated with Oakwood Healthcare.
“If you go to the doctor on time and you get tested, you can actually detect your risk. Then we can talk about what you should do to prevent it,” said Alzohaili. “If you wait until the signs and symptoms are there, it could be too late. You really want to prevent diabetes from the beginning. You want to know if you have it or not.”
Risk factors for diabetes include being overweight, inactive and, in particular, family history. Alzohaili said not all overweight people are prone to diabetes, and not all thin people are immune from it. Lifestyle and genetics factor into who is at risk and the types of precautions they should take.
“You don’t have to be overweight, you don’t have to have bad eating habits,” he said. “Sometimes it’s genetics and genetics catches up to you.”
Diabetes is a metabolic disease in which the body’s inability to produce enough insulin or use it effectively causes elevated levels of glucose in the blood. There are two types: Type I, once known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes,
is the rarer of the two and occurs when your pancreas creates little or no insulin. Type II Diabetics are referred to as insulin-resistant because their bodies do not use insulin properly. At first, the pancreas makes extra insulin to make up for it. But, over time it isn’t able to keep up and can’t make enough insulin to keep blood glucose at normal levels. Left untreated, it can eventually cause blindness, damage to kidneys, damage to nerves, amputations.
“Very serious complications can be prevented by controlling diabetes,” said Alzohaili.
Regular checkups and lifestyle changes are the best way to prevent the disease—or reverse it in its early stages, he said. If you have a history of diabetes in your family—particularly if your parents or siblings were diagnosed with it—you should check with your primary care physician to determine the level of your risk.
If caught early enough, lifestyle changes can help prevent the disease: going on a low-carb, high protein and low fat diet and exercising regularly (about 150 minutes per week, or 30 minutes daily are recommended). He recommends smaller meals every four to six hours. The exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous, he added. A good brisk walk will help. The goal is simply to be more active.
“You have to be careful with your diet and you have to be careful with your exercise habit,” said Alzohaili.
Symptoms of diabetes include excessive thirst, pain or burning in the extremities—particularly the feet— and general fatigue. However, because the body adapts quickly to high sugar levels, you may not experience or recognize the symptoms in time. That’s why Alzohaili recommends yearly check-ups—because diabetes is best treated during the first six or 12 months or, better yet, when the patient is pre-diabetic.
“If I can see you early in the process, when you’ve been recently diagnosed, we have medicine now that can regenerate beta cells, can make your pancreas work again—and it can cure Type II diabetes,” Alzohaili said. “It can be prevented; it can be cured with the right medication, if it’s early in the process.
The problem is people ignore it until the damage is done and it’s very difficult to cure.”