Diabetes: 7 Things Doctors Want You to Know

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Darcy Lewis on September 19, 2021
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    Diabetes Advice from Endocrinologists
    In 2017, a whopping 30.3 million Americans—that’s 9.4% of the population—had diabetes, according to the most recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). With numbers like that, as well as frequent media references to the “diabetes epidemic,” it can feel like the odds are stacked against you. But the more you know about this this condition—which occurs when your body either can’t produce or can’t use the hormone insulin to process blood sugar—the more likely you are to make the right choices for keeping healthy. And the stakes are high: Diabetes is the seventh-leading cause of death for Americans. The disease is also linked to serious health problems like heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, and blindness. Here, three endocrinologists offer some of their best diabetes advice, including prevention and treatment options.
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    1. “Type 2 diabetes is strongly linked to lifestyle issues.”
    In type 2 diabetes, your body does not use insulin properly so that too much sugar, or glucose, builds up in your body’s cells. Being overweight or not getting enough exercise are both risk factors for type 2 diabetes, so developing lifestyle habits like healthy eating and lots of physical activity is always part of the treatment. Oral medications or insulin shots may also be necessary. “Type 2 diabetes is unquestionably more common in people with lifestyles that aren’t as healthy,” says James Lenhard, MD, an endocrinologist at Christiana Care Endocrinology Specialists in Wilmington, Del. “People are often shocked to know how important lifestyle factors are in preventing diabetes and even putting it into remission.”
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    2. “Many people with diabetes don’t even know they have it.”
    The CDC reports that, of the 30 million adults with diabetes in 2015, nearly one quarter (7 million) were not aware they have diabetes. That’s because people may not have symptoms until the disease is advanced, or they might think their symptoms have another cause. Be alert for increases in hunger or thirst, increased urination, excessive fatigue, slow-healing sores, blurred vision, or frequent infections. Veronica McGregor, MD, an endocrinologist with Mercy Clinic Endocrinology in St. Louis, says the numbers of patients with “silent” diabetes shows how important an annual physical is. “And, of course, contact your primary care provider immediately if you experience any symptoms of diabetes,” she says. “Don’t wait until your next physical.”
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    3. “Treat a prediabetes diagnosis as a wake-up call.”
    If your doctor says you have prediabetes, that means your blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. “Most people with prediabetes will develop diabetes within a few years and nearly everyone passes through this stage on their way from normal metabolism to full-blown diabetes,” says Dr. Lenhard. “There is a point at which diabetes is thought to become irreversible. Until then, you can reverse the disease through lifestyle changes of weight loss and improving your diet.”
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    4. “Small lifestyle changes can yield big improvements.”
    According to Dr. McGregor, losing even a few pounds is one of the best things you can do if you are overweight, regardless of your diabetes status. “A weight loss of just 7% of your current body weight can prevent diabetes if you have prediabetes,” she says. “And losing that same amount if you already have diabetes can dramatically improve your health.” That relatively modest reduction—just 12 to 13 pounds, if you weigh 180—is quite achievable for most everyone with dietary improvements and increased exercise. And it’s never too late to start.
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    5. “But even a healthy lifestyle doesn’t always prevent the need for medication.”
    Type 2 diabetes usually gets worse over time; even if you don’t need to take medications at first, you may need to later on. “Once diabetes is established, it’s progressive and not reversible,” Dr. Lenhard says. “Over time, your body makes less insulin no matter what you do. Most people with type 2 diabetes will ultimately need insulin shots.”
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    6. “Successful diabetes management means making an ongoing commitment to your health.”
    Diabetes is a complex chronic disease and there is currently no cure. Regular doctor visits are important for people with diabetes, but it’s up to you to manage your diabetes carefully between appointments. “You really do need to carve out some time every day to manage your diabetes,” says Rasa Kazlauskaite, MD, an endocrinologist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “Unfortunately, there are no days off from this [condition], but experienced diabetes patients with good glucose control are able to spend less time managing it than newly diagnosed patients because they know what works for them.”
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    7. “Seek out good diabetes advice and support from many sources.”
    Most physicians who treat diabetes work closely with a diabetes educator who has been accredited by either the American Diabetes Association or the American Association of Diabetes Educators. “Since we have limited time with patients during office visits, we strongly encourage all patients to be seen by our diabetes educator, who can help patients navigate how to make the right choices when purchasing, preparing, and consuming food,” says Dr. Kazlauskaite. Outside of your doctor’s office, you can find several helpful resources tailored to your situation, whether you have diabetes, prediabetes, or are just trying to stay healthy. The CDC has created the National Diabetes Prevention Program, a partnership of public and private organizations in all 50 states that are working to help people prevent or delay type 2 diabetes. The agency says participating in a CDC-recognized lifestyle change program can cut your risk of type 2 diabetes in half. Participants can choose an in-person class, an online class, or a combination of the two.
Diabetes: 7 Things Doctors Want You to Know
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  1. National Diabetes Prevention Program. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/prevention/index.html
  2. National Diabetes Statistics Report. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/data/statistics/statistics-report.html
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Last Review Date: 2021 Sep 19
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.