November 5, 2013
American Diabetes Month: Risk Factors And Prevention
Every year, I will write a blog about American Diabetes Month, just like every year I will write a blog about Breast Cancer Awareness, Heart Month, and other health-related awareness months. I will do this because awareness and education are crucial to preventing, treating, and healing from diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Last year, I wrote a blog in November pleading for diabetes health awareness. This year, I wanted to write a blog discussing risk factors and prevention.
As I have shared previously (see link to my blog above), my dad died from a heart attack brought on primarily by his diabetes. His death and loss scarred me forever, making me hyper aware and hypersensitive to heart health and diabetes education. Furthermore, I have family on both sides of my tree who suffered (or currently suffer) from diabetes. Diabetes is a real danger for me…and for many Americans.
So we must understand the risk factors associated with diabetes. As the American Diabetes Association (ADA) lists, these are the risk factors for type 2 diabetes:
- Having prediabetes, which may be called impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) and/or impaired fasting glucose (IFG)
- Being 45 or older
- Having a family history of diabetes
- Being overweight
- Not exercising regularly
- Having high blood pressure
- Having low HDL, also known as “good” cholesterol and/or high levels of triglycerides
- Certain racial and ethnic groups (e.g., Non-Hispanic Blacks, Hispanic/Latino Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and American Indians and Alaska Natives)
- Women who had gestational diabetes, or who have had a baby weighing 9 pounds or more at birth
- Unhealthy eating
The risks compound when more than one is present. People who have a diabetes diagnosis almost always had prediabetes, which is “blood glucose levels that are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes.” Since the symptoms for prediabetes are so unclear, it is important to consider the other factors of type 2 diabetes. The ADA even provides a Diabetes Risk Test to help website visitors begin down a path to prevention. As you take the test, it provides some important information along with each question including:
- You are at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes the older you are.
- Men are more likely than women to have undiagnosed diabetes; one reason may be that they are less likely to see their doctor regularly.
- A family history of diabetes could mean you’re genetically vulnerable, putting you at a higher risk for it.
- People of certain racial and ethnic groups are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than others.
- Having high blood pressure contributes to your overall risk.
- Being inactive can increase our risk for type 2 diabetes.
- The combination of your weight and height lets us know your Body Mass Index or BMI. People with higher BMIs are at a higher risk.
For me, my risk factor was a 1, which means that I am at a lower risk for having prediabetes or diabetes…for now. But I still have some risk factors. Very easily, my risk factor number could shoot up to a dangerous level, which is why I watch and control what I can in order to prevent type 2 diabetes. I know I am at risk, so I actively work to stay healthy and prevent diabetes.
If you know you are at risk for diabetes, then it is important to take steps to lower your risk of diagnosis. Some risks are out of our realm to change: racial or ethnic group, age, family history. Most, though, are risks that we can address. The ADA provides a surfeit of information on just how to do that. Most importantly, though, they recommend taking small steps for health. In other words, address the risks you can one step at a time. Start with eating healthy because this can immediately help with weight issues as well as blood pressure and cholesterol. Also, stop smoking. Now. Not only is smoking detrimental to diabetes, but it also harms the lungs, mouth, heart, and even skin. These two steps can help prevent two of the biggest controllable risk factors for type 2 diabetes. Eventually, adding in regular exercise will be crucial to better all-around health including prevention of diabetes.
This November take time to really look into your health. Learn about your risk factors and talk to a doctor about diabetes. Our lives are worth looking out for…they are worth taking action to understand, prevent, and deal with diabetes.
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