Diabetes De-Mystified: Straight Facts On A Serious Disease

Diabetes De-Mystified: Straight Facts On A Serious Disease

Diabetes is a chronic disease that begins when your body either doesn't make enough insulin or doesn't use insulin effectively. Insulin, a hormone produced by your pancreas, helps your body make energy from food. Without insulin, your blood sugar can rise to dangerously high levels, because the glucose (sugar) in your blood isn't being used by your cells to make energy. Glucose remains in your bloodstream and becomes excessive, and this can cause many health problems.

How many people are affected by diabetes?
Diabetes is very common. The disease and its complications claim close to 200,000 lives a year and impair quality of life for many more. Nationwide, some 16 million people have diabetes. Yet over half of these people don't even know they have it!

Why is diabetes under-diagnosed?
Symptoms of diabetes are sometimes so mild that they are ignored, denied, or simply regarded as a normal part of aging. Most people are not happy to learn they have a disease, and so may resist going to see their doctors until symptoms become severe. Some people don't even have a doctor whom they see regularly, so it's unlikely they would receive an annual physical that might suggest diabetes. Often, the disease is discovered when the patient sees the doctor for another medical problem.

Are there different types of diabetes?
Yes. Two main types of diabetes account for the majority of cases in the United States. In Type I diabetes (Insulin dependent diabetes mellitus or IDDM), the pancreas does not make enough insulin, or only a small amount. This form of the disease is most common in children and young adults, and must be treated with daily injections of insulin. Approximately 10% of all Americans with diabetes have Type I. Type II diabetes (non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus or NIDDM) is the most common form, accounting for about 90% of cases. It usually affects adults over 30. In Type II, the pancreas produces some insulin, but it's not used effectively by the body.

What puts you at greatest risk for diabetes?
Factors putting you at highest risk include: a family history of diabetes; obesity; increasing age; lack of exercise; stress; certain drugs and alcohol; race (Hispanic Americans, native Americans, and black Americans are more prone to the disease).

"How do I know I have diabetes for sure?"
The classic symptoms are excessive thirst and urination, weakness and fatigue, blurred vision, tingling or numbness in the hands or feet, and recurring skin, genital, or urinary tract infections. However, your physician must perform blood and urine tests to rule out other conditions that could cause similar symptoms before confirming a diagnosis.

Diabetes is highly treatable and can be controlled.
Your treatment will depend on the type of diabetes you have, your age, and general state of health. Usually, treatment consists of insulin replacement (in Type I), insulin or other medication (in Type II), dietary modifications and meal management, regular exercise, and maintenance of ideal body weight. In addition, consistent monitoring of blood sugar levels and regular medical checkups are very important.

Caring for yourself with diabetes will change your daily routine, but not following a treatment plan is dangerous. Untreated, diabetes can cause substantial damage to the kidneys, heart, eyes, nerves, and blood vessels. Problems in the legs and feet, such as ulcers or gangrene, are also common and may lead to amputation. Most people with diabetes can live normal, productive and fulfilling lives if under proper medical care. Indeed, early diagnosis, treatment, monitoring and control of the disease are essential to the maintenance of heath.

For more information on the diagnosis and treatment of diabetes, talk with your family doctor or contact:

American Diabetes Association
1660 Duke Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA
http://www.diabetes.org/

or:

The CDC's Diabetes Home Page
http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes
or:

American Association of Diabetes Educators' Diabetes Links
http://www.aadenet.org/links.html

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