by Nilsa Ricci
Spring is almost here to plow the snow and reveal hidden life. As we follow nature’s example and begin our own spring-cleaning at home, it is important to also care for our body. With so many drastic changes happening in our external environment, it can be easy to miss subtle changes that may be occurring within us. Which chronic condition is as cryptic as this introductory paragraph? Type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM).
T2DM is a disease that impairs the body’s ability to manage glucose levels.1 Glucose is a type of sugar that cells in our body use for energy.2 After a meal, glucose rises in the blood and enters cells with the help of insulin,1,2 which is a hormone secreted by the pancreas.3 With T2DM, cells stop responding to normal amounts of insulin so the pancreas makes even more.1,2 Gradually, the cells stop responding to the higher amount of insulin and the pancreas cannot keep up.1,2 As a consequence, glucose levels rise in the blood.1,3 Untreated high blood glucose levels cause most of the symptoms and adverse outcomes of T2DM.3
Diabetes causes widespread complications in the body with heart disease being the leading cause of death.4 In 2017, diabetes was the 7th leading cause of death in the U.S.5 According to the CDC, the 2017-2018 prevalence of diagnosed diabetes among U.S. adults was 12.5% for Hispanics, 11.7% for blacks, and 7.5% for whites.6 Among U.S. adults from 2013-2016, the prevalence of undiagnosed diabetes was 3.5% for Hispanics, 3% for blacks, and 2.5% for whites.6 With such under-diagnosis, it is important to be able to recognize common symptoms of T2DM: excessive urination, excessive thirst, excessive hunger, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, blurry vision, numbness/tingling of hands/feet, and slow healing wounds.7,8 These symptoms tend to develop slowly without being perceived.7,8 Therefore, it is also important to know some of the risk factors: being overweight, being 45 years old or older, having a first-degree relative with T2DM, being physically inactive, having had diabetes during pregnancy, and belonging to certain ethnic/racial groups1,9 (e.g., Hispanic Americans have a greater than 50% chance of developing T2DM in their lifetime10).
If you have symptoms and/or risk factors of T2DM, speak with your doctor. Blood tests measuring glucose levels can determine if you have prediabetes or diabetes.11 If found to have prediabetes, you can delay or prevent T2DM by eating healthier, engaging in regular physical activity (at least 30 minutes 5 days/week), and losing weight if overweight.12 Unfortunately, more than 80% of Americans with prediabetes do not know they have it.12 If diagnosed with T2DM, you can delay or prevent complications by eating healthier (for recipes: https://www.diabetesfoodhub.org), engaging in regular physical activity, losing weight if overweight, taking prescribed medications, regularly monitoring blood sugar levels, and routinely seeing your doctor.4
Regardless of your personal situation, it is not too late to make healthy lifestyle changes. As we admire the diverse flowers this upcoming season, let’s be inspired to bloom in our own unique way.
Nilsa Ricci was born in Florida to a Colombian father and Peruvian mother. She graduated in 2016 from Columbia University in the City of New York with a B.A. in Neuroscience and Behavior. She is currently a medical student at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. She is on the executive board of the school’s chapter of the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA).