Deadly epidemic: Are you at risk for diabetes?

Wednesday is World Diabetes Day, so it’s important to educate yourself on one of the fastest-growing health epidemics across the globe.

But for millions of people, diabetes doesn’t have to be a fact of life – it’s avoidable – with some simple diet and lifestyle changes.

Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease, is linked to excess weight. Fat damages the body’s ability to use insulin – the hormone which controls blood sugar.

"At some point, the system breaks, and you get diabetes,” said Dr. Ronald Tammler, endocrinologist at Mount Sinai Diabetes Center in New York, told Fox News. “It causes all kinds of damage in the blood vessels, leading to heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, blindness and amputation."

It is estimated that 26 million people in America have diabetes. Of those, 95 percent have Type 2, and 7 million more are undiagnosed. And what’s more – another 79  million people are believed to be pre-diabetic, or at risk of developing the disease.

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There are many treatments for type 2 diabetes, including: blood sugar monitoring, healthy eating, regular exercise, insulin therapy and medication, and, in some cases, bariatric surgery.

Type 2 diabetes can be avoided, but for the 1 million Americans suffering from type 1 diabetes – it’s not so easy.

In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks the pancreas and stops insulin production. The cause of the disease is still unknown, but weight is not a factor.

Typical treatment for patients with type 1 diabetes usually involves insulin injections or a pump to administer the medication. But healthy eating and exercise are key to managing both types of the disease.

“Changing your lifestyle is more powerful than the vast majority of medications," Tammler said. “Changing what you eat, exercise and what physical activity you integrate into your life – whether it's just walking – it doesn't have to be in a gym.”

Tammler recommended people at risk for diabetes avoid sugary drinks like sodas, orange juice, sugar-sweetened iced teas and lemonades at all costs. And, he added, things like fast food and potato chips are among some of the worst foods for pre-diabetics to consume.

If you think you have diabetes or are pre-diabetic, it’s imperative that you see a doctor immediately for a blood sugar test – it could save your life.