You’re finally on your way home after another long day at work. It’s time to get the kids from their after-school activities, get dinner on the table and get into some comfy clothes. Do you usually:
A. Put together a home-cooked meal while the kids quietly work on their homework in the other room.
B. Swing through the drive-thru while trying to play referee to the kids in the back seat.
C. Pop a frozen pizza in the oven and try to get some grown-up time while the kids (hopefully) do homework in the TV room.
If you answered B or C, you’re like a lot of Americans. Unfortunately, like a lot of Americans, you’re also putting yourself and your family at risk for type 2 diabetes.
“There are 25 million American adults with type 2 diabetes and that number is growing exponentially every year. Unfortunately it’s not surprising. We have an obesity epidemic in this country, and obesity is the leading cause of type 2 diabetes, so we’re battling a diabetes epidemic, too,” says Clara Carls, DO, program director for the Family Medicine Residency Program at Adventist Hinsdale Hospital.
Despite the disease being so prevalent, there is still some confusion over exactly how type 2 diabetes can affect you. “Most people don’t know that type 2 diabetes isn’t just about blood sugar. The truth is it’s a disease that affects every organ in your body,” says Dr. Carls.
Diabetes complications from head to toe
Type 2 diabetes weakens your blood vessels, which can cause them to break. That means blood isn’t getting everywhere it should, like your retinas or nerve endings, and that’s where many of the complications start.
“Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in Americans over age 20 and the leading cause of kidney failure,” says Dr. Carls. “And, 60 percent of non-traumatic amputations are due to diabetes complications like neuropathy.” That is when the nerves are so damaged people can’t feel pain in their hands or feet. When it happens in the feet people are especially vulnerable to infection since they are unable to feel a cut.
People with type 2 diabetes have higher than average cholesterol and blood pressure readings, and are two to four times more likely to suffer heart attacks or strokes than people without diabetes.
“This disease elevates your risk for conditions that absolutely lower your life expectancy no matter what your age when diagnosed,” cautions Dr. Carls. “That’s very scary, but one positive thing to remember is that people are in control of their own health. Type 2 diabetes, and the complications that come along with it, are preventable and, to a degree, reversible.”
Make your health your priority
Taking a step back from your usual routine to make time for yourself isn’t easy, but according to Dr. Carls it’s essential. “People have a lot of demands placed on them between work and family obligations, and sometimes a quick stop at a fast food joint can make life a little easier. The problem is all those quick stops add up to a big problem for our health.”
But, Dr. Carls stresses that you don’t have to become a marathon runner or master chef overnight to make a positive change. “Start by making smaller changes like taking the stairs or parking farther away at the store,” she says. “Learn to read food labels and understand what they mean. And, shop the outer edge of your grocery store as much as possible for fresh, unprocessed food.”
Whether you have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and need to get it under control, or you’re interested in taking steps to prevent it, working with your physician to create a plan that you can realistically follow is the key to success. “Diabetes is such an individual disease that what works for one person might not work for you. We recognize that and make it our goal to be your treatment partner,” Dr. Carls says.