On The Table

A collection of knowledge-based articles to inspire overall wellness.

The Increasing Diabetes Epidemic

Diabetes can kill. Sometimes slowly, sometimes suddenly. Find out your risks, and how to live life healthy as a diabetic.

The Increasing Diabetes Epidemic

Jim moved to Southwest Florida just a couple months ago. He was a young man in his early 30s; a professional who worked the second shift in front of a computer at an area publisher. He had no family in the area. It was a new job and he was still getting to know folks, so, if anything seemed amiss with Jim, nobody would have been likely to notice.

But a few days before Thanksgiving, he called in sick to his new job. The next day, feeling worse, he took himself to the hospital. Within two days, he was dead. The cause? Diabetes. Previously undiagnosed.

Diabetes can kill. Sometimes, without warning. It's a disease that can be managed with careful monitoring and good medical care-- but only once it's been identified.

The trouble is that more and more people are becoming diabetic at earlier ages, and the younger people are, the less likely they are to consider themselves at risk of serious disease. But there are few diseases more serious, and increasingly, there are few more common.

Maybe you've heard this before? Maybe you're tired of hearing it? Perhaps all the comfortable advertising that uses kids and musicians and athletes talking easily about their blood testing devices has made this killer disease seem somehow familiar and less deadly? Well, in case you've forgotten, it is deadly. And when a productive young man suddenly dies without ever knowing what was ailing him, it simply shows that the message is still not clear enough.

So, we say it again and again. If one unnecessary death can be prevented, it's worth repeating.

The Statistics Don't Lie

Diabetes rates have skyrocketed, right along with the rate of obesity.

Overall, the risk for death among people with diabetes is about twice that of people without diabetes of similar age.

There are nearly a quarter of a million new cases of diabetes diagnosed each year among people aged 20-39. Among those between the ages of 40-59, it's more than 800,000. That's a lot of people living with diabetes.

But worse, it's estimated that there are nearly 6 million people walking around with undiagnosed diabetes. Most of them are like Jim, happy people with plenty to live for, unaware that it's all silently slipping out of their grasp.

The Effects:

Diabetes causes myriad health problems. If you don't have it, you may not know what's in store, and how many ways diabetes can limit and constrict your life. Consider:

Blindness - Diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness in adults between 20-74 years old, and diabetic retinopathy causes up to 24,000 new cases of blindness each year.

Kidney disease - Diabetes is the leading cause of end-stage renal disease, accounting for about 45 percent of new cases. In 2002, some 44,000 people with diabetes developed end-stage renal disease and a total of 153,730 people with diabetes underwent dialysis or kidney transplantation.

Nervous system disease - About 60 to 70 percent of people with diabetes have mild to severe forms of nervous system damage, including impaired sensation or pain in the feet and hands, inability to properly digest food, carpal tunnel syndrome, and other nerve disorders. Diabetic nerve disease is a major contributing cause of lower extremity amputations.

Amputations - Nearly two-thirds o f non-traumatic lower-limb amputations occur among people with diabetes. In 2002, about 82,000 non-traumatic lower-limb amputations were performed on diabetics.

Dental disease - Gum disease leading to tooth loss occurs with greater frequency and severity among diabetics. In fact, it's about double the rate of non-diabetics. About 30 percent of people with diabetes have this complication. The vicious circle of dental and diabetic issues is especially prevalent among the poor, who are less likely to have adequate medical or dental care, and are more likely to end up eating whatever they manage, whether or not it's healthy for their medical condition.

Complications during pregnancy - The rate of major birth defects in babies born to women with pre-existing diabetes varies about 5 percent, among women who receive preconception medical care for their diabetes, to 10 percent among women who do not receive such care. Poorly controlled diabetes before conception and during the first trimester of pregnancy causes miscarriages in 15 to 20 percent of pregnancies among diabetic mothers, nearly ten times the rate among women who do not have diabetes.

High blood pressure/stroke - An estimated 60 to 65 percent of people with diabetes have high blood pressure, and the risk of stroke is two to four times higher in diabetics.

Heart disease - Heart disease is the leading cause of diabetes-related deaths. Adults with diabetes have heart disease death rates that are, again, about two to four times as high as those of adults without diabetes.

Know Where You Stand and Do Something About it

Yes, diabetes is more manageable today, but the death rates are still going up because so many more people are afflicted. The best way to deal with diabetes is to avoid it altogether. Type 2 diabetes is almost entirely preventable. Obesity is a precursor condition to diabetes that puts a person at vastly greater risk for developing the disease.

If you are overweight-even if you feel robust and healthy, even if you are young as Jim was - you simply must get tested for diabetes. You may have other precursor conditions that are already causing you trouble that you've never even recognized. You may be experiencing symptoms - warning signals - that you think are just how you should feel normally.

As for medical care, testing for diabetes is not expensive.

One way or another, if your doctor hasn't tested you, or if you haven't seen a doctor lately, go. Ask. Find out. As they say: better safe than sorry.