Health Topic


Diabetes is a chronic, long-lasting disease that affects how your body turns food into energy. It can greatly affect your health and is more common in people age 45 and older. Fortunately, diabetes is more treatable and manageable than ever. The key is taking control of your health through lifestyle changes and proper medical care.

A man checks his health information on a smartphone.

Understanding Diabetes

Most of the food we eat is broken down into sugar. This is then released into our bloodstream as blood sugar (glucose). Our pancreas creates a hormone called insulin that allows our body’s cells to use glucose as energy. If you have diabetes, or prediabetes, your body either does not make insulin or does not use it correctly.

Primary Types of Diabetes

Prediabetes is a serious health condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. You’re at a higher risk for it if you smoke, regularly drink a lot of alcohol, are inactive and/or overweight, or you have high cholesterol levels. Prediabetes increases your risk for developing Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

The good news is that having prediabetes does not necessarily mean you will develop diabetes. Prediabetes can be reversed with the right lifestyle changes.

  • Get regular checkups.
  • Get 30 minutes of exercise at least five times per week.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol intake.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Focus on “healthy fats” like those found in olive oil.


Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body does not produce insulin at all. People with Type 1 diabetes need insulin to survive. It is often referred to as “juvenile diabetes” and is usually diagnosed before the age of 40.

Type 2 diabetes means there is not enough insulin in the pancreas, and this leads to increased blood sugar, or glucose, in the bloodstream. Higher levels of glucose can cause serious health problems as we age. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes in people 45 and older. See the “Risk Factors” section below to learn what can cause Type 2 diabetes.

Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy. Giving birth to a baby over nine pounds can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes, and also increases your risk of gestational diabetes with subsequent pregnancies. Risk factors for gestational diabetes include age, being overweight, family history, and hypertension. However, there are other unique risk factors such as excessive weight gain during pregnancy and/or excess body fat in your midsection.

Risk Factors

Risk factors for Type 2 diabetes are essentially the same as risk factors for prediabetes. It is important to know that a prediabetes diagnosis in itself is a risk factor for developing Type 2 diabetes.

  • Physical inactivity
  • Smoking
  • Excess alcohol intake
  • Being overweight
  • Unhealthy cholesterol levels
  • Age
  • Family history
  • Childbirth (Birthing a baby over nine pounds)
  • Ethnic background (African American, Hispanic, Latino American, and Native Americans are at higher risk)

Early Warning Signs

You might be surprised to know that many diabetes symptoms are subtle. They include:

  • Feeling the need to urinate frequently
  • Being very thirsty a lot of the time
  • Craving food and feeling hungrier than usual
  • Losing weight when you are eating your normal daily meals

It’s important to discuss any symptoms you may have with your doctor. Your doctor may use a simple blood test to see if your symptoms are from diabetes. Even if you don’t experience symptoms, it’s recommended that people over age 45 be screened for Type 2 diabetes every three years.

Know Your Numbers

Get regular screenings for:

  • Blood pressure (every three to six months; healthy numbers are less than 140/90)
  • Comprehensive eye exam (annually)
  • Kidney tests (blood and urine; annually)

Take Control

There are many actions you can take to decrease the risk of getting diabetes. If you currently have diabetes, take control by practicing a healthy lifestyle.

  • Get regular checkups. People over age 45 should be screened for Type 2 diabetes every three years. Everyone can get good advice from a doctor on how to live a healthy lifestyle.
  • Make healthy food choices. A registered dietician can provide you with tips to reduce your risk for diabetes such as drinking fewer sugary drinks and eating less processed food.
  • Get regular physical activity. Together with making healthy food choices, being active can help you lose weight and/or maintain a healthy weight.
  • Quit smoking. Smokers are 50% more likely to develop diabetes than people who don’t smoke. Smoking also increases your risk of developing heart disease and having a stroke whether you already have diabetes or not.

Diabetes Knowledge Check

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