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Nurse: Despite prevalence, diabetes can be prevented

With a recent poll showing one in eight Americans has been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, local experts emphasize that this common chronic disease may be prevented or delayed.

Type 2 diabetes results when your body doesn't properly use or make insulin, a hormone that is required for your body to use blood sugar (also called blood glucose) for energy. Before developing Type 2 diabetes, most people have "pre-diabetes," a condition where their blood sugar levels are above normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes.

"The progression of pre-diabetes to Type 2 diabetes can be slowed or perhaps even stopped by managing blood glucose levels," said Mary Lee Lehrich, a certified diabetes nurse educator at Scottsdale Healthcare's Diabetes Center. "The key to warding off Type 2 diabetes is a healthy lifestyle."

That often means losing weight, eating healthy, watching food portions and increasing physical activity, according to Lehrich.

"Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels is tough when food is part of social events, portion sizes are huge, and we are too busy or tired to prepare nutritious meals or be active," she said.

Another complicating factor, Lehrich noted, is that blood glucose levels continually change and are affected by variables such as diet, medication, activity and stress.

Challenges aside, a healthy lifestyle is vital for reducing diabetes complications such as damage to the eyes, kidneys, nerves and heart.

While the poll's one-in-eight finding may seem staggering, also concerning is that 79 percent of those surveyed may not realize they're at risk for Type 2 diabetes or may already have the disease.

"You can have diabetes and not know it," agreed Lehrich. "The symptoms come on gradually and mimic other things. For example, you may be especially thirsty or tired and attribute it to being in the desert or being very busy."

Other symptoms of pre-diabetes can include weight gain or inability to lose weight when you try, excessive hunger, confusion or clouding of the mind, as well as sleepiness after meals.

Scottsdale Healthcare's Diabetes Center offers a variety of classes to help with understanding and managing pre-diabetes and diabetes. For information, call (480) 323-4800, option 1 or visit shc.org/diabetes.

The poll, conducted by Harris Interactive in early February, involved 2,090 U.S. adults age 18 and older.

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