Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects the way your body uses food for energy. When you have diabetes, either your pancreas makes little or no insulin, or the insulin your pancreas does produce is not working the way it should. It’s a disease that’s lifelong, complicated and costly.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the national rate of adults with type 1 or type 2 diabetes has increased fourfold since 1980. In Highmark’s service area, for example, nearly 9 in 100 adults in Pennsylvania have diabetes; about 10 in 100 adults in Delaware and more than 11 in 100 adults in West Virginia face a similar diagnosis.

Diabetes Rates

Source: CDC National Diabetes Surveillance System

Even more troubling is that type 2 diabetes — formerly known as adult-onset diabetes — has been increasing at this rapid rate along with the rise in obesity in the United States. Besides obesity, key risk factors for type 2 diabetes include:

And according to the CDC’s 2014 Diabetes Report Card, type 2 diabetes can lead to other health problems, such as heart disease and stroke, blindness, kidney failure, and lower-limb amputation. High blood pressure and cholesterol as well as kidney, gum, liver and nerve disease are other conditions associated with diabetes.

An Ounce of Prevention

So what can we do to better curtail or control this disease? First and most important: lifestyle choices — including healthy eating and physical activity — should be on everyone’s radar screen. Being overweight puts you at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes. If you’re a smoker, it’s time to quit. Smoking can cause type 2 diabetes and raises your risk by 30 – 40 percent. Kicking the habit offers a host of health benefits, not the least of which is better control of your blood sugar.

Whether you have been diagnosed with diabetes or not, it’s also critical to have an annual physical exam that includes glucose screening. Early screening and identification is a key factor in diagnosing and getting diabetes under control. Even mild high blood sugar (a fasting blood sugar of 100 mg/dL or higher, also referred to as prediabetes) can be a warning sign for diabetes. If you catch it early, you may be able to control it with diet and exercise.

But if you show up to your doctor with a blood sugar of 250 mg/dL or higher, you may already be at risk for serious medical issues related to diabetes. Leaving high blood glucose levels unchecked for long periods of time can increase your risk of complications.

Managing Type 2 Diabetes

Glucose TestIf you’ve been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, please keep in mind these important tips from WebMD for managing your diabetes.

  • Eat a balanced diet. Seeing a dietitian every one to two years can be helpful if you have diabetes. Most health insurance plans cover a certain number of visits to a registered dietitian, especially if you have a chronic illness such as diabetes. If you’re a Highmark member, call the Member Service number on the back of your ID card to inquire about your plan’s coverage for dietitian or nutrition consults.
  • Exercise at least three to four times a week for 20 to 40 minutes each session. A regular exercise program can improve blood sugars, decrease the risk of heart disease and help you lose weight. Be sure to talk to your health care provider before starting any exercise program. (Remember that Highmark members can join gyms at a special discount.)
  • Get plenty of sleep. Keeping a regular schedule and getting enough sleep will help you keep your blood sugar levels under good control.
  • If you smoke, quit. While smoking is bad for your overall health, it is especially harmful for people with diabetes. People with diabetes already have a greater risk of developing health problems like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, nerve damage, foot problems and more, and smoking makes the risks that much greater.
  • Manage stress as best you can. Stress, both physical and mental, can negatively affect your blood sugar levels. Consider a stress management workshop to help you learn better coping methods.
  • Practice good foot and skin care. Check your feet daily for calluses, cracks, or cuts/breaks in the skin. If you notice any redness, swelling or numbness, notify your doctor right away.
  • Stay knowledgeable about diabetes. Continue learning about diabetes to maintain and improve your health.

If you have diabetes, check with your health insurer — many offer information through health coaches or online tools to help people with diabetes eat better, exercise more and quit smoking.

Being diagnosed with diabetes can be overwhelming. And while no one wants to have diabetes, the reality is it is very controllable with the right tools. These tips can help you be an active participant in your health care. And be sure to contact your health care provider or the American Diabetes Association if you need more information.