By Carolyn Hardin

In the United States, diabetes is one of the leading causes of disability and death. More than one in 10 people have diabetes, and three times that many are at risk for the disease.

To raise awareness about diabetes and healthy living, Mountain Family Health Centers is participating in American Diabetes Month in November, and we would like to take this opportunity to inform our community about this disease and risk factors, symptoms and prevention strategies.

What is diabetes? Diabetes Mellitus is a group of diseases affecting how the body uses glucose, the blood sugar resulting from the breakdown of sugars and starches eaten. Glucose is essential to health as it is an important source of energy for body’s cells and is the brain’s primary fuel source.

People with any type of diabetes have too much glucose in their blood, which can cause serious health issues. There are two types of chronic diabetes conditions: type 1 and type 2.

Type 1 diabetes (formerly known as juvenile diabetes) is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, and 5 percent of people with diabetes have this type. People with type 1 diabetes have bodies that do not produce insulin, a hormone needed to move glucose from the blood to the cells. Insulin therapy and other treatments can successfully control this type of diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes (formerly known as adult-onset or non-insulin-dependent diabetes) is a chronic condition affecting the way the body metabolizes glucose. In type 2 diabetes, the body does not produce enough insulin to maintain normal glucose levels or it resists the effects of insulin.

The incidence of type 2 diabetes is on the rise in both adults and children as obesity increases. According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), the prevalence of diagnosed type 2 diabetes in adults has increased by 157 percent over the last decade.

Type 2 diabetes is not curable; however it can be managed with healthy eating, maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active. Some type 2 diabetics require insulin therapy or other diabetes medications.

There are also two types of diabetes conditions which can be reversed. In prediabetes, a person’s blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as diabetes. Gestational diabetes, which may occur during pregnancy, usually resolves after the birth.

Sadly, the CDPHE says one in four Coloradans with diabetes is undiagnosed, and more than 100,000 residents are likely unaware they have diabetes and are not receiving treatment that could control the disease and improve their health and quality and length of life.

Fortunately, you can learn what symptoms to watch for and what your potential risk for diabetes is. According to the Mayo Clinic, the following symptoms may be an indication you are prediabetic or diabetic:

  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Extreme hunger
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Presence of ketones in the urine (a byproduct of the breakdown of muscle and fat that happens when there is not enough insulin available)
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Blurred vision
  • Slow-healing sores
  • Frequent infections, such as gums or skin infections and vaginal infections

Are you at risk for diabetes? Being overweight or obese; physically inactive; older; of black, Hispanic, Asian-American or American Indian ethnicity; having hypertension (high blood pressure); having low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good,” cholesterol, or high levels of triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood); and having a history of gestational diabetes or giving birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds are all risk factors cited by the Mayo Clinic.

The American Diabetic Association has a simple seven-question test you can take to assess your risk. If you score high, we suggest you schedule an appointment with your medical provider who can help you assess your risk and develop a prevention or treatment plan.

If you do not have a primary care provider, Mountain Family Health Centers can help. Call 970-945-2840 to set up an appointment or visit

We can prevent the serious and chronic disease of diabetes by being informed, knowing our risk and practicing healthy lifestyle behaviors.

This article first appeared in the Glenwood Post-Independent. Carolyn Hardin is a development consultant for Mountain Family Health Centers and other nonprofits, with 30 years of experience in public health and human services in the Roaring Fork Valley. She can be reached at