In diabetes, a person’s blood glucose (or blood sugar) levels are too high. This is because the body fails to produce enough of a sugar-regulating hormone, insulin (type 1 diabetes), or because it doesn’t use insulin efficiently (type 2 diabetes).
In seniors, type 2 diabetes (also called adult onset diabetes because it usually appears after age 30) is most common. It occurs in as many as one in ten people over age 65.
Type II diabetes is most likely to develop in people who are overweight and sedentary, and who have a family history of the disease. Women are more likely to have it than men. While diabetes effects others, those characteristics listed above are among the highest risk factors.
Certain prescription drugs also appear to raise one’s risk of developing type II diabetes, especially if they are used for many years. These include thiazide, diuretics, and furosemide.
Symptoms of diabetes can include:
- increased urination, especially at night
- constant thirst or excessive hunger
- fatigue or drowsiness
- poor tolerance for exercise
- blurry vision
- frequent infections
- sores that are slow to heal
If a doctor suspects you might have diabetes, he or she will order one or more tests to evaluate your blood glucose level or ability to tolerate rises in blood sugar.
Diabetes does not just affect your body's ability to process sugars. If not treated, it can eventually lead to complications in various body systems, including the heart, arteries and blood vessels, kidneys, nervous system, eyes, skin and connective tissues. Heart attack and stroke, kidney failure, blindness, and tissue problems leading to amputation are among the grave health problems that can develop over time.
Type II diabetes can be prevented or delayed in some cases. If you are showing early signs of the condition (your doctor may call this “insulin resistance”) you may be counseled to follow a lifestyle program. Making healthy changes to your diet (less fat and more fiber, for example) and getting regular exercise to help take off extra pounds are very effective preventive measures against diabetes (and a lot of other health problems, too!).
If you have developed type II diabetes, you will still need to follow a lifestyle program – you may be able to avoid taking medication if you are careful and consistent in making these lifestyle changes. But many people with this condition still require prescription drugs to help keep their blood glucose (sugar) at a healthy level.
Most people with type II diabetes do not need to inject insulin, but take oral drugs designed to help the body use its insulin effectively. Some of the medications available are: glipizide, glyburide, tolbutamide, chlorpropamide, metformin, and acarbose. Recently, other drugs have also demonstrated their usefulness in preventing long-term complications of diabetes. These include a type of blood-pressure lowering agent, called an angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor.
Your doctor will decide whether you will need to take one of these or other medications to help control your diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes can be insidious: it can exert its damaging effects on your system even though you are feeling just fine. If your doctor tells you that you have it, or that you are at risk, it is important to follow his or her recommendations for prevention and treatment.