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A Lack of Awareness Heightens the Risk of Diabetes

07/05/2015 07:17 EDT | Updated 07/05/2016 05:59 EDT
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Only about 10 per cent of people who are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes know about their condition, which makes it hard to take proactive measures while there is still time to prevent the full-blown disease, according to a new study.

Lack of awareness keeps a vast part of the population with elevated blood sugar that is not yet diabetic but can lead to worsening outcomes from making important lifestyle changes, such as cutting back on sodas and sugary foods as well as losing weight and getting more exercise, says Dr. Anjali Gopalan of the Philadelphia VA Medical Center, the lead author of the study.

"People with pre-diabetes who lose a modest amount of weight and increase their physical activity are less likely to develop diabetes. Our study importantly shows that individuals with pre-diabetes who were aware of this diagnosis were more likely to engage in some of these effective and recommended healthy lifestyle changes," she told Reuters.

The prevalence of type 2 diabetes has dramatically increased in recent years and is estimated by the World Health Organization (WHO) to affect now about 9 percent of the adult world population. It has become the seventh leading cause of death.

Once considered a disease of older adults, it is fast spreading among children and adolescents, primarily in the developed parts of the world like North America and Europe, but also increasingly elsewhere.

Pre-diabetes is considered a precursor to diabetes, a chronic disease that occurs when the pancreas does not produce sufficient amounts of insulin or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it is provided with. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar. Hyperglycaemia, or elevated blood sugar, is a common result of uncontrolled diabetes that can lead to irreversible harm, including to the nerves and blood vessels.

Although the causes of pre-diabetes and diabetes are well known, there is still much confusion and myth creation among the public that make it difficult to separate fact from fiction.

It is important to understand that diabetes comes mainly in two forms: type 1, which is caused by genetics and perhaps some other factors that are not yet fully understood; and type 2 diabetes, where genetic makeup can also play a role, but which is more often connected to diet and lifestyle.

The latter can usually be prevented or at least controlled through weight management, healthy eating and regular exercise as well as medication where necessary.

Unfortunately, pre-diabetes has no specific signs or symptoms, which makes timely detection so much harder. However, increased thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, and problems with vision can be red flags and should be brought to a doctor's attention.

Experts recommend that especially people who are overweight, have a family history of type 2 diabetes, suffer from high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol, are over the age of 45, or belong to certain ethnic groups should be tested for pre-diabetes as part of their regular physical, regardless of symptoms.

Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

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