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February 28, 2018

Think you know about diabetes?

by: Kimberly Barone Baden

Despite the increasing prevalence of diabetes, there are many common misconceptions and an overall lack of knowledge surrounding the disease commonly referred to as an invisible disease. Invisible because you often cannot tell if someone has diabetes just by looking at them. However, being “invisible” doesn’t mean that it comes without serious and potentially fatal side effects if not properly treated.

As many continue to tackle resolutions made during the recent New Year, and challenge themselves to take control of their health, I want to bring attention to the types of diabetes and treatments of this common disease that may not be common knowledge.

1 in 3 People Affected

Diabetes affects 29 million Americans, and alarmingly, diabetes diagnoses have steadily increased from 5.5 million in 1980 to 22 million in 2014, jumping 50 percent in the past decade. Diabetes is expected to hold its upward trend as 1 in 3 Americans who are currently pre-diabetic are likely to be officially diagnosed with diabetes by 2050

One misconception that I believe should be changed is, “diabetes is not that serious of a disease.” The sobering truth is that diabetes causes more deaths a year than breast cancer and AIDS combined.

Unfortunately, having diabetes puts you at risk for developing many other health problems, including heart disease, eye complications and kidney disease. However patients can often prevent these risk factors by working with a doctor to modify their lifestyle and medication depending on their body and diagnosis.

Diagnosis: What’s the Difference between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes?

There are two primary types of diabetes, Type 1 and Type 2. While both types involve your pancreas, they are two very different diseases and health professionals monitor and treat them differently.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 Diabetes is considered an autoimmune disease, usually diagnosed in children and young adults. Type 1 diabetics make up only 5 to 10 percent of Americans living with diabetes. People with Type 1 are different from Type 2 in that their bodies do not produce any insulin naturally, so they must undergo daily injections to control blood sugar levels.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 Diabetes makes up 90 to 95 percent of diabetes diagnoses in the United States. Typically Type 2 diabetics develop the disease later in life when their pancreas stops producing the necessary amount of insulin to regulate blood sugar. Type 2 diabetics can often times control diabetic symptoms with oral medications.

In addition to Type 1 and 2, some women develop gestational diabetes or high blood sugar levels during pregnancy. This type of diabetes is controlled with a low sugar diet and blood sugar levels usually return to normal after delivering the baby.

Potentially Minimizing the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

The American Diabetes Association discusses some ways to minimize the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, including healthy eating, lowering blood pressure if it is considered high, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising. Smoking is also considered a risk factor for developing diabetes.

Treating Diabetes

It is important to fully understand any medical condition and to work with your doctor to find treatment tailored for your body. Like diabetes, medication is not one size fits all and with new medications hitting the market daily, it is important to do your due diligence when starting a prescription medication.

For example, one newer class of medications on the market is known as incretin mimetics, and includes medications such as Januvia®, Victoza®, Janumet® and Byetta®. While these drugs are purported to mimic the body’s natural hormone that is responsible for lowering blood sugar levels after you eat, studies have shown that Type 2 diabetes patients taking these medications have a higher risk of developing acute pancreatitis, and are potentially three times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer.

Another Type 2 diabetes medication is Invokana®. It promises to “lower blood sugar by ‘helping’ the kidneys remove sugar through the process of urination,” when used in conjunction with diet and exercise. The medication also advertises for off-label uses, including lowering blood pressure and weight loss.

However, just two years after receiving FDA approval, Invokana has been linked with cardiovascular injuries and acute kidney failure. Invokana and other diabetes-related drugs classified as SGLT2 inhibitors, including Invokamet®, Farxiga® and Xigduo XR®, also have been required by the FDA to strengthen warnings on their drug labels related to kidney failure and DKA (or diabetic ketoacidosis).

As with any prescription drug, always check with your doctor for the best treatment for your body, ask lots of questions and be your own advocate. For example, for some, the potential side effects of a prescription may outweigh the benefits, and some people are able to control their Type 2 diabetes with diet and exercise alone.

With diabetes on the rise in America it is important to get the facts and in some cases, not depend on a “magic pill” to get blood sugar levels to healthy rates, if possible.

As always, no medical diagnosis is one size fits all, making personal and public awareness increasingly important as diagnosis and treatments are being constantly introduced for patients.