Type 2 diabetes is becoming a common disease worldwide yet about one in four people are unaware they have it. An expert at Baylor College of Medicine explains the importance of recognizing the symptoms and risk factors.

“Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness, amputations, kidney disease, dialysis and neuropathy, and some research has suggested that diabetes could be linked to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Ashok Balasubramanyam, professor of medicine – diabetes – endocrinology and metabolism at Baylor. “If your sugar is not controlled many complications will arise.”

The consequences of undiagnosed diabetes or not treating the disease are severe. A large percentage of people who are diagnosed with diabetes at a later stage already have complications such as cardiac disease, nerve damage or abnormal kidney function, and, in fact, they only learn of a type 2 diabetes diagnosis after being treated for one of the complications.

What is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is a condition in which the body fails to properly use and store glucose, a type of sugar. People with type 1 diabetes lack insulin while people with type 2 diabetes make insulin, but their cells do not use it appropriately.

“In addition to diabetes being so prevalent it is also one of the most incredibly expensive diseases we treat due to all the complications,” said Balasubramanyam. “It is a complex disease that affects every part of the body.”

Symptoms

It is very common that by the time a patient is diagnosed they already have some of the complications. Symptoms of type 2 diabetes include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Blurry vision
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Excessive thirst
  • Weight gain
  • Weight loss
  • Numbness in the hands or feet

Balasubramanyam recommends visiting your primary care physician to rule out the possibility of type 2 diabetes if you are experiencing these symptoms.

Risk Factors

Several risk factors have been associated with type 2 diabetes.  

  • Family history: If diabetes runs in your family you are at a higher risk
  • Gender: Men develop type 2 diabetes at a higher rate than women
  • Race: Hispanics, African Americans, Native Americans and Asian Americans more commonly develop the disease
  • Age: The risk of type 2 diabetes increases after age 45
  • Weight: Being overweight increases the chances of developing type 2 diabetes

Prevention

Balasubramanyam recommends healthy habits to lower your chances of getting diabetes. He says these tips will also help you avoid health complications down the road.

  • Avoid high calorie foods
  • Exercise
  • Quit smoking
  • Lose weight (if you are overweight)

Clinical Research

Baylor is recruiting volunteers with type 2 diabetes for the GRADE study funded by the National Institutes of Health. The goal of the GRADE study is to determine which combination of commonly prescribed diabetes medications is the best long-term treatment for people with type 2 diabetes. Participants will receive diabetes medications, have quarterly blood tests and evaluation at no charge. For more information, visit www.gradestudy.com, or contact the Study Coordinator Dr. Erica Gonzalez at (713) 798-3625.