If someone tells you that you are bound to inherit something from one or both of your parents, chances are that you would initially feel ecstatic and jubilant. After a while, you would probably start wondering if it is a treasured heirloom, a vintage car or a valuable piece of land. But, what if the “thing” that you are supposed to inherit is actually a hereditary disease? Most likely, you would be overwhelmed with grief and disappointment at first.
“It is a common misconception that if you have a family history of diabetes, specifically Type 2 diabetes, you will automatically acquire the disease as well,” remarked Celeste Ong-Ramos, MD, an Endocrinologist from De Los Santos Med.
According to the American Diabetes Association, the children of individuals who were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes after the age of 50 only have a 1 in 13 (7%) risk of also getting the disease. The risk, however, increases to 1 in 7 (14%) for those children whose parents were diagnosed before turning 50 years old. Meanwhile, some scientists believe that children with parents who are both Type 2 diabetics are the most susceptible with a 1 in 2 (50%) risk.
Yet, despite the numbers, those who at risk of developing this illness are not necessarily doomed. “The truth is, even though you may be genetically predisposed, you can still delay or even prevent the onset of this type of diabetes,” Dr. Ramos assured.
The Grim Truth
Diabetes mellitus is a lifelong condition. People who are living with diabetes have higher than normal blood sugar (glucose) levels – also called as hyperglycemia – because their bodies have trouble producing or using a hormone called insulin.
The most common form of the disease is Type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM), which accounts for more than 85% of the total cases. In 2015, the International Diabetes Federation estimated that there are 3.5 million cases of T2DM in the Philippines. Moreover, 6.1% of Filipino adults between 20 and 79 years old have the disease.
Those with T2DM have what is called as insulin resistance. Their cells have trouble responding normally to insulin so the glucose from the food that they eat stays in their blood and isn’t used as fuel for energy. If such is left untreated, this can lead to hyperglycemia and ultimately, a litany of complications such as eye conditions (which can lead to blindness), cardiovascular disease (which can lead to heart attack or stroke), delayed healing of wounds, nerve damage, kidney disease (which can require kidney transplant), erectile dysfunction and foot ulcers (which can require amputation).
Harbingers of Things to Come
“Aside from genetics, your lifestyle choices can also increase your risk of having the illness,” Dr. Ramos noted. “At times, the combination of both can result in T2DM.”
Being overweight or obese plays a huge factor in the development of T2DM as the more fatty tissue you have, the more resistant your cells become to insulin. And because families tend to have similar eating and exercise habits, it is not uncommon for obesity to run in families as well.
Likewise, living a sedentary lifestyle – commonly known as being a couch potato – hurts your chances of preempting the onset of the disease. Since physical activity can help you control your weight and make your cells more responsive to insulin, the lack of it produces the opposite effect.
“Age is also a factor,” added Dr. Ramos. “As you get older (age 45 and above), you tend to exercise less and gain weight as a result.”
Other risk factors include having high blood pressure (hypertension), abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
While the symptoms of T2DM usually go unnoticed, be mindful of them if you already have the aforementioned risk factors. Among the common symptoms are:
Feeling very thirsty
Having cuts or bruises that are slow to heal
Tingling, numbness or pain in the hands or feet
Defying the Odds
A recent Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) study confirms that you can reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 58% if you lose 7% of your body weight – or 15 pounds (6.8 kg) if you weigh 200 pounds (90.7 kg) – and do moderate exercises for 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
“Despite your genetic susceptibility, evidence shows that you can do something about your destiny,” Dr. Ramos reiterated. “Furthermore, if you do experience any of the symptoms, it’s best to get tested because early detection leads to early treatment.”
Fasting Blood Sugar (FBS), Glycosylated Hemoglobin (HbA1C) and Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT) are some of the laboratory tests used to diagnose T2DM.
Armed with the knowledge of the proper preemptive measures, you can avert the same fate as that of your parents. “Type 2 diabetes is a lifestyle disease,” Dr. Ramos affirmed. “The complications of T2DM can indeed be prevented through diet, exercise and proper medications.”
Visit De Los Santos Med’s Wellness Center at the ground floor of the hospital’s Medical Arts Building to know more about diabetes prevention and management. The specialty clinic is open Mondays to Saturdays, 8AM to 5PM.