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The Progression of Diabetes – Will It Happen to Me?

The progressive nature of diabetes is a tough topic for diabetes-related medical professionals to discuss on two counts.

Diabetes is a self-managed condition

First, we do not want to paint a picture of doom and gloom. As a diabetes educator, I have heard from several patients comments like, “why should I even try, my dad lost a leg from his diabetes”. Being diagnosed with diabetes is not doom. There have been many positive medical advances with diabetes management over the years. I will say this now and you will hear me say it many times...diabetes management, for the most part, is in your own hands. The great news is that diabetes is a self-managed condition.

That means there are things you can do to help yourself. It is particularly good news to know that you can take the upper hand in the management of this chronic disease. You decide/choose what and how much you eat, when and how much you exercise, if you take your medication or skip it, if you show up for doctor appointments, and if you are open to recommendations your diabetes educator or doctor suggests. You get to choose.

Progression means monitoring and adjustments

The second reason this is a hard discussion is that type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease. It’s progressive like we find with aging. With time, our body’s organs get tired and may not work as well as when we were younger. With type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance becomes more pronounced and the beta-cell function in your pancreas declines (you produce less natural insulin). These two courses of action throw some curves in your diabetes management. This means that you may need to adjust your lifestyle as time goes on, just like we often need to do as we age.

How long does type 2 diabetes progression take?

You may be asking, how long will it take for this progression to happen? There isn’t a definitive answer to that question. There are a lot of unknowns when you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. How long have you had higher blood sugar readings? Research shows that 10-15 years of compromised blood glucose before diagnosis with type 2 diabetes is not unusual.1

So that begs the question, has your blood sugar been elevated to points where nerve damage, skin infections, risk of stroke, eye complications, or kidney damage has already begun before you ever knew you had pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes? Your body may have been living for years in conditions with elevated blood sugar and started laying down an environment in your body for diabetes complications. This is a tough part – without you knowing, diabetes complications may have begun already. The progression of type 2 diabetes can be very slow but may start with a pre-diabetes diagnosis.

Taking action to prevent progression

I’m hoping if you know this upfront it can make it easier to understand how important it is that you take every opportunity to manage your blood sugar, blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. Remember the good news is that diabetes is a self-managed condition, and every little bit helps. You have the power to continue to do everything you can to help slow down the progression but it’s also important to know that it is a progressive disease and it’s individualized for each and every person with diabetes.

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