With a growing obesity epidemic in the United States, type 2 diabetes mellitus has become one of the largest health concerns that primary care physicians encounter. An estimated 23 million Americans live with diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is a disorder of metabolism. When we eat, our food is broken down to glucose. The cells of our body utilize this glucose for growth and energy. Insulin, which is made by the pancreas organ, is necessary to carry the glucose into the cells to provide this energy source.
In type 2 diabetes, the fat cells of the body, particularly those around the waist and midsection, become different from normal cells. These cells become resistant to insulin. That is, they do not allow insulin to do its normal function. When this occurs, the glucose sugar has no option other than to remain in the bloodstream. It cannot remain there forever, though, and it eventually gets deposited in different body parts. Diabetics are at high risk for damage to many of these organs. Sugars deposited in the kidneys can lead to diabetic nephropathy and kidney failure. Sugars in the retina of the eye can lead to retinopathy and vision loss. When it damages the nerves, it can cause painful neuropathy of the hands and feet. This can also lead to diabetic foot ulcers than can lead to amputation. Diabetic damage to the blood vessels can cause heart attacks and strokes, or even erectile dysfunction in men.
Often times, people with type 2 diabetes do not show any signs or symptoms and it is discovered with routine blood tests. However, some of the most common symptoms include excessive thirst or appetite, frequent urination, unusual changes in weight or fatigue. Sometimes, people will get nausea, dry mouth or blurry vision. Frequent skin infections, yeast infections in women or poorly healing wounds can be clues leading toward diabetes.
To diagnose diabetes, your primary care physician can use different tests, including fasting blood glucose, hemoglobin A1c values or two-hour glucose tolerance testing. Speak with your doctor if you have any of the symptoms above. You may be at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes if you are overweight, have a family history of diabetes or are a female who had gestational diabetes when you were pregnant.
The treatment of diabetes is two-fold. The part you can do for yourself is live a healthier lifestyle. You need to monitor your diet, decrease the total number of calories you consume each day and particularly minimize foods high in fats, carbohydrates and sugars. You need to exercise more and burn more calories.
The part your doctor can do is to put you on the right medicine, which usually starts with metformin, before other medicines can be added, including pills or insulin injections.
It is also important for diabetics to see an eye and foot specialist each year for proper complication surveillance. With the right diet, amount of exercise, physician monitoring and medication, you can avoid the devastating complication of this dangerous disease. ••