Diabetes, Genetics, and Warning Signs (Continued)

A. I will answer your question with both types 1 and 2 diabetes in mind.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder, meaning the body attacks itself (in this case, targeting and destroying the beta cells within the pancreas that are responsible for making insulin). Type 1 diabetes typically affects people under age 25 and rarely, up to age 60. With type 1 diabetes, the body isn't able to produce the hormone insulin, therefore, insulin injections are required to live. The chance of passing type 1 onto your child is low (researchers are investigating what link exists between parents with type 1 diabetes and the risk of their offspring developing the disease). Classic symptoms of type 1 diabetes are obvious:

  • excessive thirst
  • excessive urination
  • excessive hunger
  • unexplained weight loss

In my practice, I have observed the extremes of type 1 symptoms. Oftentimes, parents think their child is extra thirsty or hungry because they are in a sports program, or think their child is in a growth spurt and therefore needs more calories. When dealing with a teenager, the symptoms may not be as obvious, as they are known for being private. If these symptoms go undetected, a person may be found unconscious. I recall a case of a toddler whose only two symptoms were fever and unconsciousness. The emergency room physician was about to do a spinal tap when a nurse asked about the child's blood glucose level. The nurse saved that kid's life.

Type 2 diabetes is considered a hereditary disease wherein the pancreas does not make enough insulin, or the body does not use the insulin efficiently, thereby raising blood glucose levels. It typically affects adults, but we are now seeing the obesity epidemic impacting the rates of type 2 diabetes in all age groups, including children. While symptoms of type 2 diabetes may be the same as those of type 1 (i.e., excessive thirst, urination, and hunger and unexplained weight loss), they can also include more subtle symptoms, including:

  • fatigue
  • blurred vision
  • numb or tingling in the hands or feet
  • frequent or recurring wounds that are slow to heal

The elusive aspect of type 2 diabetes is that there are often no symptoms. The chance of your kids getting type 2 later in life is high, however, with lifestyle changes, that risk can drop to low as evidenced by science.

The Diabetes Prevention Program studied more than 3,200 adults who were 25 years or older and who were at a high risk for developing diabetes. This study evaluated the effectiveness of preventing diabetes amongst high risk groups by dividing participants into three groups:

  • Intensive lifestyle modification group (healthy diet, moderate physical activity for 30 minutes a day for at least 5 days a week).
  • Standard care group, plus a diabetes drug called metformin1.
  • Standard care group, plus a placebo drug (a pill with no effect).

Guess which group faired the best in terms of avoiding diabetes? The group that ate right and exercised regularly reduced their risk of getting type 2 diabetes by 58 percent. The lifestyle modifications were effective for all participants of all ages and all ethnic groups. At least 10 million Americans have similar qualities to those in the Diabetes Prevention Program. With a healthy lifestyle, you can prevent getting diabetes. That is exciting!

I believe people and families with diabetes become the true experts in learning how to live successfully with the disease. If you need a caring professional to help control your diabetes, find a Certified Diabetes Educator in your area by calling 1-800-832-6874.

Read Theresa's bio here.

Read more of Theresa Garnero's columns

NOTE: The information is not intended to be a replacement or substitute for consultation with a qualified medical professional or for professional medical advice related to diabetes or another medical condition. Please contact your physician or medical professional with any questions and concerns about your medical condition.

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Last Modified Date: May 14, 2013

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