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A doctor using a stethoscope on a patient's back

The U.S. has seen a sharp rise in the rates of diabetes over the past two decades, with 29.1 million Americans, or 9.3% of the population affected, according to the latest statistics from the American Diabetes Association

Diabetes occurs when a person has high blood glucose or blood sugar, either because insulin production is inadequate, or because the body’s cells do not respond properly to insulin, or both, according to Medical News Today. And African Americans are from 1.4 to 2.2 times more likely to be diagnosed with the disease than Whites, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, citing various studies.

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Age 40 is about when some adults begin to show signs of diabetes, according to a report at Healthline. Some symptoms include frequent urination, thirst and weight loss or gain, which are similar to the what occurs during the aging process, health and dietary expert, Ian K. Smith, M.D., told NewsOne via email. Smith is the New York Times bestselling author of “SHRED: The Revolutionary Diet,” and “SUPER SHRED: The Big Results Diet: 4 Weeks, 20 Pounds, Lose It Faster!”—which will be released in paperback in January.

“Constant thirst, frequent urination, unexplained weight loss, numbness in the extremities, these are just some of the symptoms that can be confused as simply being part of the aging process,” said Smith, who is also co-host of “The Doctors” TV show, a medical contributor to “The Rachael Ray Show” and host of the nationally syndicated radio show “HealthWatch.”

Aging causes vital organs, like the bladder, pancreas and heart to lose some function, which is why it’s easy for the process to be confused with diabetes, he said. Other diabetes symptoms that can be confused with the aging process include tender, swollen gums, unexplained fatigue, and blurred vision, Smith continued.

“If someone notices any possible diabetes signs or symptoms, they should contact their doctor as soon as possible to be examined,” he said.

Another symptom of diabetes that can be confused with aging includes unusual skin patches, Healthline reports. Why? Skin cells also begin to breakdown as we age. But if there are “dirty” patches on your neck, or you have dark circles under your eyes (“raccoon eyes”), you could be showing symptoms of diabetes, not aging, the report says.

“Too much glucose in the bloodstream damages blood vessels and can create these skin conditions, as well as tingling and numbness in the hands and feet,” Healthline writes. “Dry, itchy skin may also develop. There is even a movement afoot among barbers to learn to spot the signs of diabetes on the skin and the scalps of their clients.”

But it’s important for people who have been diagnosed with diabetes to know that it is treatable, says Smith.

Part of the treatment involves careful food management and knowing how food affects your blood sugar levels. It’s not only the type of food that people consume, but the quantity and the combinations of food.

“[W]ith the proper lifestyle changes and medical management [diabetes] can be very well controlled,” Smith said.

While no one has discovered how to slow the aging process, a healthy lifestyle can certainly make the transition occur with ease.

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