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Diabetes Risks Seen in Ages as Young as 18

Diabetes risks

Controlling blood sugar levels requires proper diet, exercise, monitoring of glucose levels, and often, medications like insulin.

In 2012, estimated direct and indirect costs of diabetes in the United States reached $245 billion.

When adjusted for population age and sex differences, diabetics incurred average medical expenditures of 2.3 times those of non-diabetics. But it isn’t just the financial costs that make the disease “expensive.” It can also rob people of their quality of life. Blindness, kidney failure, and amputation of lower limbs can all be the result of uncontrolled diabetes. Furthermore, diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death in the US in 2010 based on a review of death certificates.

Most people think of type 2 diabetes as something that only affects people over 40, but it can affect younger people. And in many people, the seeds for developing diabetes are sown much earlier in life. A recent study of 1.5 million Swedish men who were followed for 25 years found predictors of later-in-life diabetes as early as age 18.

Low Aerobic Capacity and Diabetes Risk

One factor the researchers of the Swedish records looked at was a man’s aerobic capacity at 18 and his risk of developing diabetes. Records were reviewed for men who were conscripted for military service at age 18 from 1969 to 1997. When they entered the military, their aerobic capacity was calculated while they exercised on a stationary bike. When looking at medical records of these same men from 1987 to 2012, they found that lower aerobic capacity was associated with higher risk for diabetes. This risk was independent of other risk factors such as body mass index, family history, educational status and socioeconomic level.

Fortunately, whatever your age, you can increase your aerobic capacity. Benefits of increased aerobic capacity include lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels and an easier time maintaining a healthy weight. An average of 20 minutes per day of moderate-intensity exercise is recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine for improving aerobic capacity. If you’re out of shape, starting with 30 minutes three times a week is recommended. Some examples of popular aerobic capacity-building exercises include cardio machines, swimming, running, walking, and dancing.

Low Muscle Strength and Diabetes Risk

The men who were studied in Sweden also had their muscle strength measured with hand grip tests and other measures of strength. Those with lower muscle strength at age 18 were found to have a higher risk of type 2 diabetes as well, though this risk factor was not as strong as that associated with lower aerobic capacity. Researchers found that having both lower muscular strength and lower aerobic capacity more than tripled risk for developing diabetes later in life.

The researchers interpret these results to mean that prevention of type 2 diabetes needs to begin earlier in life than many people think. Reducing risk is a matter of improving aerobic fitness and muscle strength, whatever a person’s weight status.

Pre-Diabetes and Diabetes in Young Adults

As of 2012, an estimated 29.1 million Americans had diabetes. Of these, only 21 million were actually diagnosed. That means that millions of people (more than one-fourth of diabetics altogether) have the disease and don’t know it.

There are two types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes, where the body doesn’t produce enough insulin, only accounts for around 5% of all diagnosed cases, and most of these cases are diagnosed in children and young adults, though it can be diagnosed at any age. Most diabetics have type 2 diabetes, where the body makes insulin, but can’t use it properly. The risk for type 2 diabetes increases with age, though in recent years it has increasingly been found in children and teens, primarily in association with the increase in rates of childhood obesity.

Type 2 diabetes is still rare in kids and teens, but when it occurs it is more likely to affect girls, kids who are overweight, those with a family history of diabetes, and those of Hispanic, Asian, African-American, or Native American descent.

How Type 2 Diabetes Is Managed

The foundation of good diabetes care is healthy eating and regular physical activity. Some people with mild type 2 diabetes can manage their disease through regular diet and exercise, and regular monitoring of blood glucose alone. However, most people have to take medications to control their diabetes. People with type 1 diabetes have to have insulin injected regularly or provided by a pump, since their bodies don’t make sufficient insulin for survival. Some people with type 2 diabetes also inject insulin, though many take oral medications, or a combination of oral medications and insulin.

Diabetics who take medications must carefully monitor their blood glucose levels, because one of the risks of diabetes treatment is episodes of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, which can result in seizures or even death if severe enough. It’s important for anyone with diabetes to work closely with their medical team to understand blood glucose targets, and exactly how and when to take medications to keep the risk of hypoglycemia under control. Many diabetics also have to take medications for their blood pressure and cholesterol.

Diabetes

As incidence of diabetes goes up, so does healthcare expenditure.

Elevated Health Risk Associated with Diabetes

One of the biggest problems with type 2 diabetes is that you can have it and still feel fine for a while. But at the same time, the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, and nerves may be sustaining damage from chronic high glucose levels. The long-term complications of type 2 diabetes develop slowly, but they can ultimately be life-threatening. Here are just a few of the elevated health risks diabetics have:

• Cardiac disease – including heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure
• Nerve damage – including tingly or burning pain, or numbness that begins in the extremities (like the toes) and spreads inwardly. This nerve damage can be a contributing factor to erectile dysfunction in men.
• Kidney damage – which may eventually result in the need for dialysis or transplant
• Eye problems – including damage to the blood vessels of the retina and increased risk of cataracts and glaucoma
• Skin conditions – like bacterial and fungal infections

Diabetes and Erectile Dysfunction

The link between diabetes and erectile dysfunction is more complex than just nerve damage. Because chronic high glucose levels damage blood vessels, they can lead to poor circulation throughout the body, including the blood vessels supplying the sex organs. The increased risk of heart disease is another factor, because heart disease and erectile dysfunction are linked. In most cases, erectile dysfunction is caused by lack of adequate blood flow – something that can result when arteries are narrowed by high cholesterol and heart disease. Finally, type 2 diabetes is associated with obesity, which is also correlated with higher levels of erectile dysfunction. In short, a healthy sexual lifestyle depends on having a healthy body, and it’s difficult to do that if you have untreated or poorly controlled diabetes.

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Don Amerman has spent more than three decades in the business of writing and editing. During the last 15 years, his focus has been on freelance writing. For almost all of his writing, He has done all of his own research, both online and off, including telephone and face-to-face interviews where possible. Don Amerman on Google+