November is American Diabetes Month. Diabetes is a word we hear all the time, but how many of us really know that much about it? To kick off this awareness month, let’s take a look at what diabetes is, how to recognize it, and what it means for our feet. To start, it’s important to know that there are two types of diabetes, Type 1 and Type 2.
Type 1 is hereditary and there is no way to calculate your risks of having it. In type 1 diabetes, the body destroys the cells that produce insulin and eventually the body stops producing insulin altogether. When the body needs energy, it takes sugars and starches and turns them into glucose. This glucose must be transferred between your blood and tissue cells by a hormone called insulin. If the body stops producing this, we must supplement with insulin shots. Only 5% of people with diabetes have type 1 and it is generally diagnosed in children and young adults.
With type 2 diabetes, the body still produces insulin, but can’t use it properly. This is called insulin resistance. Surprisingly, scientists don’t know the exact cause of type 2 diabetes (sadly, scientists don’t know exactly what causes type 1 diabetes either, but research is under way to find the source and eventually work towards a cure), but there are specific pre-existing conditions and risk factors that can increase your likelihood of type 2 diabetes. These include: history of hyperglycemia, obesity, physical inactivity, genetics, age, and high blood pressure, to name a few.
Although they differ slightly, both types of diabetes can lead to hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia. If a patient’s glucose levels get too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia) they may experience extreme thirst, frequent urination, general weakness, persistent exhaustion, nausea and vomiting, hallucinations, and even a stroke or heart attack.
Management of symptoms is similar for both types of diabetes. People living with type 1 diabetes can manage their health with a combination of insulin shots, well-planned meals, and a fair amount of exercise. Type 2 diabetes requires similar treatment, but oral medications are prescribed in place of insulin.
Folks living with diabetes need to pay special attention to their feet. Frequent hyperglycemic attacks can reduce blood flow and cause nerve damage, meaning any potential foot problems may go unnoticed until they have seriously progressed. If you have diabetes and have not seen a podiatrist lately, we recommend making an appointment immediately. Early prevention and recognition of problems will lead to prolonged foot health and help you avoid future foot issues.