Diabetes increases the risk of high blood pressure, atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries), coronary artery disease and stroke, particularly if your blood sugar levels are poorly controlled. It can also result in circulation problems caused by damage to the blood vessels.
Women with diabetes are much more likely to have heart attacks, angina (chest pain) or heart surgery than men with diabetes. Although the cause is not fully understood, it may have something to do with the interaction of female hormones with blood sugar and insulin.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes develops when your body does not produce enough insulin, or when your body does not effectively use the insulin that it does produce. Your body needs insulin to break down sugar for energy.
What are the types of diabetes?
- Type 1 diabetes usually develops in children, teenagers, young adults and even people in their 30s. It occurs when the pancreas no longer produces insulin, which the body needs to break down sugar for energy. It is treated with insulin. 10% of people with diabetes have Type 1.
- Type 2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, or when the body does not effectively use the insulin that is produced. It often develops in overweight adults. 90% of people with diabetes have Type 2.
- Gestational diabetes occurs in 2 to 4% of women during pregnancy and usually disappears after the birth of the baby. It can increase the risk of the mother and the baby developing diabetes later in life.
What is prediabetes?
Prediabetes is when blood glucose levels are almost as high as with diabetes. It is sometimes called Impaired Glucose Tolerance (IGT) or Impaired Fasting Glucose (IFG).
Prediabetes does not mean you have diabetes. However, it may indicate an increased risk for developing diabetes in the future. If you are told you have prediabetes, talk with your doctor about how frequently your blood glucose should be tested.
Making healthy lifestyle choices, such as controlling weight, eating a healthy diet and being physically active can help prevent developing diabetes.
Who is at risk of diabetes and who should be tested?
Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in people under 30, most often in children and teenagers. It’s usually caused by an autoimmune reaction – the body attacks its own pancreatic cells for unknown reasons. This reduces the amount of insulin produced by the body. It is not caused by eating too much sugar. There is no safe and effective prevention of type 1 diabetes at this time.
Type 2 diabetes is more common in people over the age of 40. But, unfortunately, it is now being seen in younger people, even children. Most of these children are from ethnic groups that are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes particularly the Indigenous People, Hispanic, African, Asian and South Asian populations.
People over 40 should have their fasting blood glucose checked every three years to screen for diabetes. If you have one or more of the following risk factors for diabetes, then your blood glucose should be checked more frequently. Also, all pregnant women should be screened between 24 and 28 weeks gestation or earlier if they have one or more of the following risk factors.
Risk factors of Type 2 diabetes include:
- Being over 40 years of age
- Having a close relative (mother, father, sister brother) with Type 2 diabetes
- Being a member of specific ethnic populations that are at increased risk of type 2 diabetes. These include Indigenous People, South Asian, Asian, African and Hispanic people
- Having prediabetes or slightly high blood glucose levels, but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes
- Having vascular disease (disease of the blood vessels)
- Having had gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy)
- Having given birth to a large baby (a baby larger than 4 kg or 9 lb)
- Having high blood pressure
- Having high blood cholesterol
- Being overweight
- Having abdominal obesity (a large waistline)
- Having polycystic ovary syndrome
- Having schizophrenia
- Having acanthosis nigricans (darkened patches of skin or skin folds in areas such as the arm pit)
While you can’t change your age or genetic background, you can eliminate or control many risk factors through a healthy lifestyle and if needed, medications. Reducing risk factors will decrease your chances of developing type 2 diabetes and the complications of heart disease and stroke.
What can I do to reduce my risk?
If you have diabetes, the best way to reduce the impact it can have on your health is by controlling your other risk factors :
- If you are 40 or older, have a family history of diabetes, are overweight, have high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol, ask your doctor to test your blood sugar levels.
- Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
- Ask your doctor to refer you to a registered dietitian to learn about healthy eating.
- Work closely with your healthcare team to set goals for your blood glucose and know your target levels.
- Learn how to monitor your blood sugar and tell your doctor if you cannot keep it in control.
- Become physically active. Work with your doctor to design a program that's right for you.