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Questions about diabetes?

Do you have questions about type II diabetes? Do you know where to go for help?

Over 16 million Americans have diabetes and half of these people are over age 60. About 13% of people over the age of 70 years are known to have diabetes. Unfortunately, about 11% of all people between 60 and 74 years of age have diabetes -- but do not know it.

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So, what is type II diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease where blood glucose levels are above normal. After we eat, food is broken down into a sugar called glucose, which is carried by the blood cells throughout the body. Cells use the hormone insulin (made in the pancreas), to help them process this glucose into energy. People develop type II diabetes because the cells in the liver, muscles, and fat do not use insulin properly.

Risk Factors

Researchers don't fully understand why some people develop type II diabetes and others don't. It's clear that certain factors increase the risk, however, including:
Weight. Being overweight is a primary risk factor for type II diabetes. The more fatty tissue you have, the more resistant your cells become to insulin.
Inactivity. The less active you are, the greater your risk of type II diabetes. Physical activity helps you control your weight, uses up glucose as energy and makes your cells more sensitive to insulin.
Family history. The risk of type II diabetes increases if a parent or sibling has type II diabetes.
Age. The risk of type II diabetes increases as you get older, especially after age 45. Often, that's because people tend to exercise less, lose muscle mass and gain weight as they age. However, type II diabetes is increasing dramatically among children, adolescents and younger adults.
Prediabetes. Prediabetes is a condition in which your blood sugar level is higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as type II diabetes. Left untreated, prediabetes often progresses to type II diabetes.
Gestational diabetes. If you developed gestational diabetes when you were pregnant, your risk of developing type II diabetes later increases. If you gave birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds, you're also at risk of type II diabetes.

Signs and Symptoms

Type II diabetes symptoms may seem harmless at first. In fact, you can have type II diabetes for years and not even know it. Look for:
Increased thirst and frequent urination. As excess sugar builds up in your bloodstream, fluid is pulled from your tissues. This may leave you thirsty. As a result, you may drink and urinate more than usual.
Extreme hunger. Without enough insulin to move sugar into your cells, your muscles and organs become depleted of energy. This triggers intense hunger that may persist even after you eat.
Weight loss. Despite eating more than usual to relieve your constant hunger, you may lose weight. Without the energy sugar supplies, your muscle tissues and fat stores may simply shrink.
Fatigue. If your cells are deprived of sugar, you may become tired and irritable.
Blurred vision. If your blood sugar level is too high, fluid may be pulled from your tissues — including the lenses of your eyes. This may affect your ability to focus.
Slow-healing sores or frequent infections. Type II diabetes affects your ability to heal and fight infections. Bladder and vaginal infections can be a particular problem for women.

Prevention

Healthy lifestyle choices can help you prevent type II diabetes. Even if diabetes runs in your family, diet and exercise can help you prevent the disease. And if you've already been diagnosed with diabetes, the same healthy lifestyle choices can help you prevent potentially serious complications.

Get more physical activity. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day. Take a brisk daily walk. Ride your bike. Swim laps. If you can't fit in a long workout, break it up into smaller sessions spread throughout the day.
Eat healthy foods. Choose foods low in fat and calories. Focus on fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Strive for variety to prevent boredom.
Lose excess pounds. If you're overweight, losing even 10 pounds can reduce the risk of diabetes. To keep your weight in a healthy range, focus on permanent changes to your eating and exercise habits.

Where to look for help:

American Diabetes Association e-newsletter

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Mayo Clinic

Johns Hopkins University

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