When insulin was first discovered in 1921, it's not an overstatement to say that it revolutionized the treatment of diabetes. No longer was diabetes considered a death sentence. For the first time, people with diabetes could expect to live longer, fuller lives.
Insulin transformed diabetes treatment, but for many decades it was the only drug available to treat diabetes. Then came another mini-revolution with the introduction of the first oral, non-insulin drugs to treat type 2 diabetes, including...
The risk for type 2 diabetes typically increases with age. In the absence of risks, testing should begin after age 45. One of the biggest jumps in type 2 diabetes was among men.
The risk factors for type 2 diabetes include:
being overweight or obese
a sedentary lifestyle
a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates and low in fiber and whole grains
a history of type 2 diabetes in your immediate family (mother, father, sister, or brother)
African-Americans, Hispanics, American Indians, Native Alaskans, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders also have an increased risk.
Having diabetes, in turn, increases the danger of heart disease, as well as a range of problems associated with impaired circulation, such as eye disease and nerve damage.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a disease that occurs when the body can't control blood glucose levels properly. Normally, the digestive tract breaks down food into glucose, a form of sugar. After being absorbed, it is released into the blood. The hormone insulin, produced by the pancreas, stimulates cells to absorb glucose from the bloodstream and use it for energy.
Type 1 diabetes, which typically shows up in childhood, is caused when the immune system mistakenly attacks insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Type 2 diabetes occurs when tissues in the body gradually become resistant to the effect of insulin. The pancreas responds by churning out more of the hormone. But eventually it can't keep up, and blood sugar levels begin to climb.
That's bad for many reasons. High glucose levels damage nerve and blood vessels, leading to heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney disease, and gum infections. Advanced type 2 diabetes can result in blindness and the need to amputate limbs that no longer get adequate circulation.
One of the main causes of the type 2 diabetes epidemic, researchers believe, is the rise in obesity. Over time, excess weight makes cells in the muscles, liver, and fat tissue less responsive to insulin -- a condition called insulin resistance.
Another driver of type 2 diabetes, also linked to the others, is inactivity. Lack of activity increases the risk of obesity, of course. But a sedentary lifestyle may contribute directly to type 2 diabetes risk, as well. Studies show that overweight or obese people who become active improve their blood sugar control, even if they don't lose weight.
An estimated 7 million people in the U.S. have this serious disease and don't know it. An estimated 79 million people have prediabetes, meaning they have elevated blood sugars not yet high enough to be diagnosed with the disease. However, with prediabetes you are at risk for diabetes in the future. It's easy for doctors to check for diabetes using a simple blood test that measures blood sugar levels or a test called a hemoglobin A1c. Unfortunately, many people aren't tested because they either don't have symptoms or the symptoms are so mild that they don't notice them. Talk to your doctor about being tested, especially if you're experiencing any of the following symptoms: