Living with diabetes column, part one of a three-part series

By: Bonnie Clark, RN
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You might have wondered recently why diabetes is being mentioned more in advertisements, magazines and in the news. Primarily, this has to do with several decades of data showing an alarming increase in the number of people with diabetes.

It has been estimated that 25.8 million people in the United States have diabetes, which represents a 400-percent increase since 1980. If these rates continue, it is estimated that 30 million Americans will have diabetes by 2030.

What is diabetes?

When we eat, our food is broken down into glucose that is taken into our circulation.

Insulin is a hormone released by the pancreas, one of our digestive organs, and it is responsible for transporting this glucose into our body’s cells for energy.

If extra glucose is circulating in the system, insulin converts it for storage in the liver.

Diabetes is a group of metabolic disorders characterized by increased levels of blood glucose due to not enough insulin or insulin not being used by the body.

Type 1 or Type 2?

In 2016, a team of researchers from Sweden and Finland identified five types of diabetes but the ones that we hear about most are Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes occurs in 5 to 10 percent of people with diabetes and they are usually diagnosed in childhood or early adulthood. This type of diabetes is caused by the person’s body attacking the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.

Type 2 diabetes occurs in 90 to 95 percent of people with diabetes and they are usually diagnosed as an adult or older adult. This type of diabetes is caused by a decrease in the amount of insulin produced by the pancreas or the body’s tissues being less sensitive to insulin.

Am I at risk?

Risk factors for diabetes can be divided into two categories – those that we can change and those that we cannot change.

Risk factors that we cannot change include a family history of diabetes, being of non-Caucasian ethnicity and being 45 years old or older.

Risk factors that we can change include obesity, hypertension, elevated cholesterol levels and a history of impaired glucose tolerance.

How do I know if I have diabetes?

One of the biggest problems contributing to the increasing rates of diabetes is that symptoms of the disease can be very subtle at first. The classic symptoms of diabetes include excessive thirst, excessive hunger and excessive urination.

The more subtle signs include fatigue, weakness, dry skin, skin wounds that are slow to heal and recurrent infections.

Other symptoms that can occur after having uncontrolled diabetes for several years include vision changes and tingling or numbness in the hands and feet.

If you or anyone that you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, please check with your healthcare provider about being tested for diabetes.

Bonnie Clark is a nursing instructor at Sacramento City College and an RN for 34 years. She is currently providing classes at Lincoln Medical Practice on living with diabetes. Two more monthly columns are planned for this series. The second column discusses the complex regimen that is required for a person with diabetes to follow to control their blood sugar and the complications that can happen if their blood sugar is not controlled over time. The third column discusses how family, friends and co-workers can better support someone with diabetes and measures that can be taken to help prevent diabetes for yourself. For more information, email