Type 2 Diabetes: It’s not a necessary diagnosis
December 14, 2016
Written by Katie Coakley
Sponsored by Kaiser Permanente
The following words are not something you want to hear from your doctor: "You have Type 2 diabetes." It's an unnerving diagnosis, one that is often dreaded and frequently misunderstood. But this doesn't have to be the case. There are treatments and, more importantly, measures that you can take to prevent it.
What is Type 2 diabetes?
"Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body either does not make enough insulin or becomes insulin resistant," explained Dr. Patricia Dietzgen, family medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente Frisco Medical Office. "This means your body loses its ability to efficiently utilize insulin, causing your blood sugar levels to be higher than normal."
Often called "adult onset diabetes," as it is usually diagnosed later in life, Type 2 diabetes accounts for approximately 90 percent of diabetes cases, Dietzgen said. While certain populations, such as African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders, are more prone to receiving this diagnosis, genetics can also play a role.
While an elevated blood sugar level may not seem too scary, there are serious implications with this diagnosis.
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"It is very important to treat diabetes to avoid long-term complications, including the development of cardiovascular disease," Dietzgen said. "Over time, diabetes raises your risk of heart disease, can cause nerve and organ damage — even blindness."
If left untreated, diabetes causes artery blockage, nerve damage and increases your risk for heart attack and strokes. It also decreases your immune response, leaving you more susceptible to developing infections.
In short: Long-term diabetes is life-threatening.
People with diabetes have twice the risk of the general population of developing a heart attack or stroke. As a result, two out of three people with diabetes die from heart attacks or strokes.
If you have Type 2 diabetes, you'll most likely be treated with dietary and lifestyle changes and medications; if it's still uncontrolled, insulin may be required.
"Your provider will determine which is required based on your lab results, and monitor this approximately every three months until you get it under control," Dietzgen said. "They may refer you to a wellness specialist or dietitian to help teach a healthier diet and lifestyle."
And while genetics may play a factor in Type 2 diabetes, there is hope: you can still minimize your risks by following a healthy lifestyle.
How to prevent Type 2 diabetes
"You can prevent or decrease your risk of developing diabetes by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, watching your diet, and maintaining a healthy weight," Dietzgen said. "Stop smoking to avoid further inflammation."
Dietzgen also said that not becoming "pre-diabetic" is also important.
This category of diabetes affects approximately 80 million people. Often referred to as a "wake up" diagnosis, pre-diabetes alerts you to the need for major lifestyle and dietary changes in order to avoid progressing to diabetes. The Metabolic syndrome that correlates with pre-diabetes includes central obesity (essentially fat around the waist or the “spare tire”), hypertension, high cholesterol and high triglycerides.
By monitoring your weight, blood sugar level, cholesterol and triglycerides, you can avoid Type 2 diabetes.
"You may be able to normalize your lab numbers with significant dietary and lifestyle changes, but having normal lab values does not mean you are no longer at risk," Dietzgen said. "It's best to make the changes … and stick to them. That’s one of the main reasons we recommend lifestyle changes versus 'go on a diet.' This (avoiding Type 2 diabetes) requires lifelong healthy habits."