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Understanding and Preventing Diabetes

SEWA-AIFW is celebrating health this month! Today, we are discussing diabetes. Diabetes is an incredibly common chronic health condition, affecting more than 34 million Americans (1 in 10) every year. Of that massive number, nearly 20% don’t even know they have it.

Diabetes is a chronic, or long-term, condition where the body does not produce enough insulin, or can’t use the insulin it produces very well. This is a problem because insulin is the hormone that regulates blood glucose, or blood sugar. When the body can’t use insulin very well or produce enough of it, then too much glucose remains in the blood stream.

Over time, high blood glucose can lead to other serious health conditions, such as heart disease, kidney disease, and even blindness. While there is yet no known cure, there are ways people can work to prevent diabetes or manage their symptoms.

What Are The Types of Diabetes?

There are three general categories of diabetes. Most people have heard of these, but many don’t quite understand the differences. The three types are type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 is much less common than type 2 — about 5-10% of diabetes cases are type 1. Current understanding indicates that type 1 diabetes may be caused by an autoimmune reaction where the body mistakenly attacks itself. The result of this is that the body doesn’t produce insulin. Symptoms of type 1 diabetes often develop very quickly, and generally develop in children, teens, and young adults.

People with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin daily to survive. There is currently no known prevention.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is much more common — about 90-95% of people with diabetes have type 2. In type 2 diabetes, the body doesn’t use insulin as well as it should and can’t keep blood glucose at a normal level. This type of diabetes develops slowly over years and is usually diagnosed in adults. However, children and teens are being diagnosed more and more.

Someone with type 2 diabetes may not notice any symptoms, so it’s important to get blood glucose tests if you’re at risk. Healthy lifestyle changes, such as exercise, clean diet, and losing weight can delay or even prevent type 2 diabetes altogether.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes develops in pregnant women who have never before had diabetes. Natural changes during pregnancy can cause increased insulin resistance and lead to developing type 2 diabetes afterwards. It usually goes away after the baby is born, but about 50% of women with gestational diabetes go on to develop type 2 diabetes later in life.

It’s important to get your blood glucose tested if you’re at risk so you can make a health plan. Regular exercise is an effective prevention method, but it’s best to check with a doctor.


When someone has prediabetes, it means that their blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. It’s incredibly common — 88 million Americans, or 1 in 3, have prediabetes. The vast majority do not even know they have it, which is serious because prediabetes puts you at an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

Many don’t know they have prediabetes because it can take a long time for symptoms to show up. Without getting blood glucose tested, many won’t know they were prediabetic until they are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Risk Factors for Prediabetes

There are a few very common risk factors for prediabetes. They aren’t guarantors that you will have it, but with 1 in 3 adults being prediabetic, it’s still a good idea to be watchful.

These are a few of the most common risk factors for prediabetes:

  • Being overweight

  • Aged 45 or older

  • Having a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes

  • Getting exercise less than 3 times per week

  • Having gestational diabetes while pregnant

  • Having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Considerations for South Asians

A 2014 study demonstrated that South Asians, and South Asian men in particular, have the highest prevalence of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes of any US racial group. Causes are not yet known and research is ongoing.

Nonetheless, it has been observed that South Asians, even at what would normally be considered a healthy weight, are at an increased risk of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. So, even if you are within healthy BMI and maintain a healthy diet, it’s still a good idea to get your blood glucose tested.

Normally, people who are not prediabetic are advised to get their blood glucose tested every three years. Given the ongoing research here, it may be a good idea to get tested a little more often, like every one to three years.

Type 2 Diabetes Prevention

The good news about type 2 diabetes is that prevention can be relatively simple. Losing a small amount of weight and adding regular exercise to your routine can significantly lower the risk. According to the CDC, a “small amount” of weight is roughly 5-7% of your body weight. For a 200 pound person, that’s 10-14 pounds.

More good news is that there are many resources for learning about diabetes prevention! The CDC offers a National Diabetes Prevention Program that, if followed, can lower your risk of type 2 diabetes by up to 58% or 71% if you are 60 or older. Click here to visit the CDC’s National Diabetes Prevention Program homepage.

There are many ways you can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes! Here are a few of the most common ones:

  • Getting regular exercise — the CDC recommends at least 30 minutes, at least 3 times per week.

  • Drink more water regularly.

  • Lose weight if you are overweight.

  • Clean up your diet and remove excess sugar and carbs.

There is always a starting point. The beginning is to simply look at your current eating and exercise habits. If you can, work with your doctor to come up with a nutrition and exercise plan, and stick to it.

Getting Your Blood Glucose Tested

People who are not prediabetic or at risk of prediabetes or type 2 diabetes are advised to get their blood glucose tested every three years. As established earlier, current research suggests that South Asians are at an increased risk for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, so it may be a good idea to get tested more often.

It is advisable to take an overnight fast before getting a blood glucose test done for the most accurate reading. Eating causes changes in blood glucose levels. You’ll likely be asked if you ate breakfast that day when getting a test for this reason.

Normal blood glucose levels are 99 mg/dL or lower. If yours is measured between 100 and 125 mg/dL, that is an indicator of prediabetes. Blood glucose levels of greater than 125 mg/dL mean that you are diabetic.

If you are unsure of where to get tested, come to one of SEWA-AIFW’s monthly health clinics! We offer free blood pressure and blood glucose testing as well as referrals.

So get tested and be healthy! We want everyone in our community to enjoy good health and wellness for life.

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