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November 14, 2019

More Americans are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at younger ages

Here's what you can do to prevent the disease

Prevention Diabetes
World Diabetes Day PA Images/Sipa USA

Of the more than 30 million Americans with diabetes, the vast majority of them having type 2 diabetes, a mostly preventable condition.

Today is World Diabetes Day, which marks the birthday of Sir Frederick Banting, the Canadian scientist and Nobel Prize winner who co-discovered insulin alongside Charles Best. 

Created by the World Health Organization, the day offers an opportunity to increase awareness of diabetes, which affects more than 30 million people in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The vast majority of them – almost 95% – have type 2 diabetes, a mostly preventable disease that typically affects people 45 years of age and older. But more Americans are being diagnosed at an earlier age, including young children, teenagers and young adults. 

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body develops a resistance to insulin, a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar. Because cells no longer respond to insulin, the pancreas tries to make more. But that in turn causes blood sugar rise to dangerous levels. 

Left untreated, type 2 diabetes can lead to heart disease, vision loss and kidney disease. Symptoms include increased thirst and urination, unexplained weight loss, blurred vision and fatigue.

It can take years for type 2 diabetes to develop, and the symptoms often are silent at first. Understanding your risk factors is the best chance at preventing the disease. 

What you eat affects your blood sugar levels. Understanding this relationship is an important part of preventing and managing type 2 diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.

 Refined carbohydrates, like white bread and sugary drinks, can elevate blood sugar levels. Complex carbohydrates like starchy vegetables, dried beans and grains, are healthier choices. Making a habit of reading all food labels carefully can improve your diet. 

The American Diabetes Association offers more nutrition tips here.

Additionally, some people are diagnosed with prediabetes, a precursor to type 2 diabetes that affects 84 million Americans, according to the CDC. This condition occurs when blood sugar levels are elevated, but not at a high enough level for a person to be considered a diabetic. 

Risk factors for prediabetes include being overweight, a sedentary lifestyle and a family history of type 2 diabetes. African Americans, Hispanics and Native and Alaska Natives also have a higher risk. So do women who experienced gestational diabetes during pregnancy.

Prediabetes can be reversed by lifestyle changes, including a healthy diet, regular physical activity and, among people who are obese, weight loss. Failing to adopt such changes likely will result in the development of type 2 diabetes.

Anyone concerned that they may be a diabetic should consult their doctor for a blood test. Some people with type 2 diabetes may only need to make healthy lifestyle changes. Others may need an insulin prescription or other types of diabetes medications. 

A big part of managing diabetes is regularly checking blood sugar levels. Consult a doctor to determine target levels and how frequently they need to be checked.  you need to check your levels

Stress can aggravate symptoms. Relaxation strategies, physical exercise and getting at least eight hours of sleep a night can help.

Almost 11% of Pennsylvania adults have diabetes and many of them are not aware of it, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health

"Diabetes must be managed effectively," Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said in a statement earlier this month. "If not, this disease can lead to a number of serious health conditions including adult blindness, kidney failure and lower limb amputations. In 2018, more than 28,400 people were hospitalized in Pennsylvania for a diabetes-related health issue."

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