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Type 2 diabetes is not a death sentence by any stretch, but it is a serious disease that demands your attention immediately. Ignoring it may not seem to have significant short-term consequences (chronic high blood glucose levels are not painful), but over time, the elevated glucose levels can damage your nervous system, blood vessels, eyes, heart, and kidneys. In the landmark Diabetes Prevention Program study, even a small percent of people with prediabetes were found to have evidence of eye disease (retinopathy). Managing your blood glucose levels now, along with other health risk factors (e.g., cholesterol, blood pressure, weight), is necessary for preventing these complications. Losing even a small amount of weight and keeping it off can also improve glucose control as well as have other clinical benefits (read more tips on managing diet and exercise below for more on weight loss). Keep in mind that better diabetes management will also benefit you in the here and now – your mood and energy levels are adversely affected when your glucose levels are high.
When people are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, they have already lost up to 50% or more of their beta cell function (the cells in the pancreas that make insulin) and are typically also insulin resistant, meaning they can't use the insulin they make effectively. A few patients can initially manage their diabetes with a healthy eating plan and exercise. But over time, beta cell function decreases, which makes blood glucose harder to manage. To continue achieving blood glucose control, people typically need to add one or more different types of medications. The good news today is that there are many more choices available, and a number of these medications don't cause as much hypoglycemia, hunger and/or weight gain as in the past (e.g., metformin, pioglitazone, DPP-4 inhibitors, GLP-1 agonists, SGLT-2 inhibitors, and better insulin). The need to use more and different types of medications does not mean that you have failed. Diligent management early on can help preserve remaining beta cell function and slow progression – another reason why acting early and aggressively is so important.