A primary care doctor discusses coping with diabetes and high blood pressure at any age

Image of patient at blood pressure screening

Both diabetes and high blood pressure are all too common in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in 10 Americans have diabetes. Nearly half of U.S. adults have high blood pressure.

Many Americans with diabetes are unaware they have this chronic condition. Just one in four adults has their high blood pressure under control.

Left untreated, each condition can cause serious, even deadly health issues. Fortunately, there are simple ways to screen for both and excellent treatment options.

African Americans, Native Americans and Hispanics are at higher risk, so it’s important to make an appointment with your primary care doctor and get screened regularly.

If you have high blood pressure or diabetes, monitor your health and keep these conditions controlled, whether through lifestyle changes (exercise, diet, quitting smoking) or medication.

Diabetes

What is diabetes?

It’s a disease where the body can’t produce or doesn’t respond as well to insulin, which we all have in our body. It causes an abnormal breakdown of the food we eat and elevates levels of glucose (blood sugar) in the bloodstream. If untreated, diabetes can cause serious health issues such as kidney disease, heart disease, vision loss and other problems.

What are the basic types of diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is diabetes that’s first diagnosed during pregnancy. All pregnant women are screened for this, and then typically started on medication if found to have diabetes.

Who should get screened for type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

We don’t routinely screen children for type 1. We test if there are symptoms, which include frequent urination, thirst, blurry vision, unintentional weight loss, nausea or vomiting.

For type 2 diabetes, if you are overweight or obese and above age 40, we recommend you get screened with a blood test. If your blood sugar is normal, we usually continue to screen every one to three years.

How do you treat diabetes?

For type 1 diabetes, the treatment is insulin.

For type 2 diabetes, the treatment depends on age, other health conditions and your A1C (blood sugar) levels. Depending on your levels, we may first recommend lifestyle changes before prescribing medication. Our suggestions may include cutting back on carbohydrates (e.g., rice, pasta, bread), skipping soda and exercising for 150 minutes a week. If your AIC level is higher or you have other coexisting conditions – obesity, heart disease, stroke history, high blood pressure, kidney disease – we will discuss medication.

It's important to keep your diabetes monitored and controlled. We usually recommend following up with your provider every three months.

High blood pressure

Who should get screened?

Everyone should get their blood pressure measured annually starting in early childhood. Blood pressure is the pressure of the blood pushing against the walls of your arteries.

What are the symptoms of high blood pressure?

A lot of times, patients with high blood pressure feel well and do not have symptoms. It can be a silent disease. Other patients experience symptoms such as headaches or blurry vision.

What are the consequences of high blood pressure?

If left untreated, it increases your chances of having a stroke, heart attack or developing heart disease.

What increases your risk for high blood pressure?

Lifestyle is extremely important. Alcohol, smoking, a diet high in salt and fat, and a sedentary lifestyle all contribute or can lead to high blood pressure. Certain groups — African Americans, Native Americans and Hispanic — are at higher risk.

Do kids get high blood pressure?

Yes, children can develop high blood pressure. Although this is rare, children who are overweight or obese, have a diet high in fat and are not very active stand a higher chance of developing blood pressure issues in adolescence or later in life. It is important to start healthy habits and schedule annual physicals to prevent children from developing problems with their blood pressure.