According to 2011 estimates released in January by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diabetes now affects nearly 26 million Americans of all ages with another 79 million people having what doctors call prediabetes. CDC says that prediabetes, which affects 35 percent of adults, is a condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Many people first become aware that they have diabetes when they develop one of its life-threatening complications such as:
• Heart disease and stroke
• High blood pressure
• Kidney disease
• Nervous system damage
• Dental disease
• Pregnancy complications
• Sexual dysfunction
Diabetes is a chronic disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin, a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life. The cause of diabetes continues to be a mystery, although genetics and environmental factors such as obesity and lack of exercise appear to play key roles. There is no known cure for diabetes but the management of blood glucose (sugar) is the cornerstone of diabetes care. There are several different types of diabetes. They are:
• Type 1 diabetes: This type of diabetes accounts for 5-10 percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes and requires that insulin be taken to control the disease. Approximately one in every 400 to 500 children and adolescents have type 1 diabetes. Risk factors are less well defined for type 1 diabetes than for type 2 diabetes, but autoimmune, genetic and environmental factors are believed to be involved in the development of this type of diabetes.
• Type 2 diabetes: This type may account for about 90-95 percent (17 million people) of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. This type of diabetes can often be controlled by diet and regular physical activity although some people may also need to take diabetes pills or insulin. Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include older age, obesity, family history of diabetes, prior history of gestational diabetes, impaired glucose tolerance, physical inactivity and race/ethnicity. African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians and some Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders particularly are at high risk for type 2 diabetes.
• Gestational diabetes: This type affects about 4 percent of all pregnant women and usually disappears when a pregnancy is over. Women who have had gestational diabetes are at increased risk for later developing type 2 diabetes. Some studies have reported that approximately 40 percent of women with a history of gestational diabetes eventually developed diabetes. Gestational diabetes occurs more frequently in African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians and people with a family history of diabetes than in other groups. Obesity also is associated with higher risk.
Other types of diabetes have been known to result from specific genetic syndromes, surgery, drugs, malnutrition, infections and other illnesses. These forms of diabetes may account for 1-2 percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes.
You are at risk of developing diabetes if you:
1. Are older than 45
2. Are overweight
3. Have a close family member, like a parent, brother or sister, who has or had diabetes
4. Have had diabetes when you were pregnant.
5. Are African American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian American or Pacific Islander or Native American.
Symptoms that may be indicative of diabetes are:
• Frequent urination
• Excessive thirst
• Unexplained weight loss
• Extreme hunger
• Sudden vision changes
• Tingling or numbness in hands or feet
• Feeling very tired much of the time
• Very dry skin
• Sores that are slow to heal
• More infections than usual.
While heart disease is the leading cause of death for diabetic Americans, millions of them fail to make the connection between these two life-threatening conditions. Most diabetics consider kidney complications, blindness and amputations to be their greatest risks, but an alarming two out of three people with diabetes will die from a heart attack or stroke.
Diabetics are more likely to also have other health problems, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which contribute to an increased risk for heart attacks and stroke. People with diabetes are up to four times more likely to suffer a stroke than people without diabetes.
Last year, about 1.9 million American adults were diagnosed with diabetes. Diabetes is now the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States and costs $174 billion a year, including $116 billion in direct medical expenses. If current trends continue, as many as one in three American adults could have diabetes by 2050, predicted a CDC study published last year
Your risk for diabetes may be significantly reduced by:
• Keeping your weight in control
• Eating low-fat meals that contain lots of fruits, vegetables and whole-grain foods
• Staying active most days of the week
If you are at risk and have one or more symptoms of diabetes, please see your health-care provider now. Irreversible complications may result from lack of or improper treatment of diabetes. Careful monitoring and treatment will prevent cardiovascular and kidney disease and can save your eyesight.
For additional information about diabetes, contact your health-care provider or local health department.
Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.