You can take steps to successfully manage your diabetes and protect your health. Here’s what you need to know to get started.

Your body breaks down the food you eat and uses it for growth and energy. If you have type 2 diabetes, your body may not be able to accomplish this routine function as efficiently. The good news is “there’s a lot people can do to improve their lifestyle and live long, healthy lives,” says Alison Massey, RD, CDE, and director of diabetes education at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland.

Here are 10 essential facts you need to know about type 2 diabetes so that you can make the right decisions and stay healthy — for life:

  1. It’s the most common type of diabetes. More than 23 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, and of those, 90 to 95 percent have type 2 diabetes, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
  2. If you’re 45 or older, you should get tested, says the American Diabetes Association (ADA). And people who are overweight and have another risk factor should be tested sooner. Risk factors include:
    • Having a parent or sibling with diabetes
    • Being of African-American, American-Indian, Asian, Hispanic, or of Pacific Islander descent
    • Being sedentary
    • Having high blood pressure
    • Having abnormal cholesterol levels (low HDL or high triglycerides)
    • Having a history of cardiovascular disease
    • Having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  3. If you have diabetes, you should know your blood glucose numbers. One way to know if your treatment is working is to track your blood glucose levels. Target ranges are based on individual considerations. Your doctor will let you know where your numbers should be.
  4. Your diet doesn’t have to be restrictive. “A meal plan to better manage diabetes is simply a healthy eating pattern that all of us should be following,” Massey says. The ADA encourages a balanced diet that includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, non-fat dairy, healthy fats, and lean meats or meat substitutes.
  5. Losing weight will improve your health. Weight loss improves the body’s ability to process glucose and use insulin, according to the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP). Research has found that overweight people who lose weight are able to delay or prevent the development of type 2 diabetes, the NIDDK notes.
  6. Oral health is especially important if you have diabetes. Diabetes increases your risk for oral health problems like dry mouth, thrush, and periodontal gum disease. And gum disease can make it more difficult to control your blood glucose. Be sure to practice good oral hygiene — brushing and flossing every day — and see your doctor for regular checkups.
  7. Diabetes raises your risk of eye problems. As many as 40 to 45 percent of people with diabetes have some amount of diabetic retinopathy, an eye condition caused by damage to the blood vessels in the retina, the National Eye Institute says. Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in the U.S. Other diabetes complications include cataracts and glaucoma.
  8. Heart health is another major concern. High blood glucose levels cause damage to nerves and blood vessels over time, the NIDDK says. Plaque buildup is another byproduct of high glucose levels. These factors increase your risk for heart disease and stroke — at least two times that of someone who doesn’t have diabetes. Heart attack and stroke are the leading causes of death among people with diabetes.
  9. Diabetes is a main cause of kidney failure. Even when diabetes is under control, there is a risk for chronic kidney failure, the NIDDK says. Of the 100,000 people diagnosed with kidney failure in the U.S. each year, nearly 44 percent of cases are caused by complications of diabetes.
  10. It takes a team approach. The risk of complications from type 2 diabetes is great, and for that reason, your diabetes care team needs to have the right experts to ensure nothing is missed. You should consider having a primary care physician, an endocrinologist, certified diabetes educators, a podiatrist, a dentist, and an ophthalmologist, Massey recommends. source

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