As the number of Americans diagnosed with diabetes continues to grow, federal health officials are trying to raise awareness of the disease during National Diabetes Month, which runs throughout November. This year there is a special focus on the impact diabetes has on heart disease. 

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According to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 29 million Americans, or nine percent of the population, have diabetes. In New Jersey, 8.3 percent of the population has diabetes.

In many cases, people don't even know they have diabetes. Nearly 28 percent of those with diabetes are undiagnosed, according to the CDC.

"If it goes undiagnosed or untreated, diabetes can be very dangerous and can lead to very serious health problems including heart attack and stroke," said Dr. Griffin Rodgers, director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). "People with diabetes generally have symptoms, but the symptoms tend to be non-specific and are easily ignored or dismissed. They include being very thirsty, urinating often, having blurred vision or losing weight without trying."

Other symptoms include dry skin, extreme hunger, tingling or numbness in feet or hands, an increase in infections and fatigue.

People who have a family history of diabetes, are overweight or obese, are of a specific race or ethnicity including African American, Asian or American Indian, had gestational diabetes while pregnant or are over 45 years of age are at the highest risk of getting diabetes.

Among the complications diabetics have, people with diabetes are nearly two times more likely to die from heart disease or stroke than a person who does not have the disease.  In many cases, diabetics are unaware that having the disease puts them more at risk for heart trouble.

But that risk can be lowered by managing the "Diabetes ABCs," according to the National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP), a joint program program of the NIH and the CDC.

The "Diabetes ABCs" are as follows:

  • A for the A1C test: The A1C test is a blood test that measures a person's average blood sugar level over the past three months. This is different from the blood sugar checks that people with diabetes do each day. The A1C goal for many people is below 7. Ask your health care provider what your goal should be.
  • B is for Blood pressure: Blood pressure is the force of your blood against the wall of your blood vessels.
  • C is for Cholesterol: There are two kinds of cholesterol in your blood: LDL and HDL. LDL, or "bad" cholesterol, can build up and clog your blood vessels. It can cause a heart attack or stroke. HDL, or "good" cholesterol, helps remove the "bad" cholesterol from your blood vessels.
  • S is for Stop Smoking.

"If you have pre-diabetes, you can lower your risk of developing diabetes by making lifestyle changes. If you are more physically active or if you are obese and lower your body weight by 7 percent, you can lower your risk of getting diabetes by 58 percent," Rodgers said. "Changing your lifestyle can help reduce the risk of developing diabetes or at least, delaying the onset."

For more information on your risk factors for diabetes, click here.  To learn more about how to prevent diabetes, click here.