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Thought Leadership In Action

What You Need to Know About Diabetes

Diabetes is one of the most common health conditions both globally and in the U.S. More than 100 million Americans suffer from it or have prediabetes, a condition that is often a precursor to Type 2 diabetes — a life-changing condition for which there’s no cure.

Do you really understand the risk factors that contribute to developing diabetes? And do you understand whether you or your loved ones are at risk?

Here are some key facts about the disease and its risks.

Diabetes is Linked to Heart Disease

Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for those with diabetes. “Diabetes is one of the most powerful risk factors for all types of cardiovascular disease,” says Dr. Prakash Deedwania, a professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco and chairman of the American Heart Association’s diabetes committee.

The American Heart Association recently launched the Know Diabetes by Heart initiative to raise awareness about this link. Many people aren’t aware of the connection, even those already diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. A recent survey showed that only about half of people with diabetes know their risk or have discussed heart disease risks with their health care providers, the AHA says.

Understanding the connection between the conditions can help you better manage Type 2 diabetes and prevent heart disease complications from arising. It also provides additional incentives for those at risk of Type 2 diabetes to make lifestyle changes to avoid developing the condition.

Family History is Far from the Only Factor in Diabetes

Many people believe diabetes is a condition that results primarily from having a family history of the disease. But that is not the case.

“Although it is true that family history of diabetes does increase the risk of developing diabetes, lifestyle behavioral modification — physical activity, a healthy diet — and weight loss have the opportunity to dramatically lower the risk of developing diabetes,” says Dr. Joshua Joseph, an assistant professor of medicine at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.

Lifestyle modifications can go a long way toward decreasing your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, and help mitigate a higher risk due to family history, Joseph says.

Diabetes Doesn’t Discriminate, but it Does Hit Some Ethnic Groups Hard

Many ethnic groups face an elevated risk for diabetes. “South Asian communities are at a very high risk of diabetes,” Deedwania says.

Complicating this factor is that different groups have varying levels of diagnosis and treatment. “Hispanic communities are also at a very high risk of diabetes, and in this group it tends to not be diagnosed as early and to be poorly controlled,” he says.

This is true even for populations that have previously not faced a high risk of developing diabetes. “The rates of diabetes are increasing in children, adolescents and young adults, especially among racial/ethnic minorities,” Joseph says.

It’s important for everyone to engage in behaviors such as exercise and eating healthy that lower their risk for diabetes, regardless of their age or other demographic data, doctors say.

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