According to the CDC, 25.8 million children and adults in the United States – representing 8.3% of the population – have diabetes. This represents an increase of roughly 15 percent in just the past few years. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of misunderstanding about this disease, some of which can lead to a delay in diagnosis and worsening of complications. More importantly, people who can be identified as being at risk for developing diabetes may have an opportunity to prevent the disease from occurring.
- Type 1 and type 2 diabetes have different causes. Type 1 diabetes is a disease that develops when the body’s immune system attacks the pancreas resulting in a deficiency of insulin. Without insulin, the body is unable to convert sugar and other starches into energy and the blood sugar can rise to dangerous levels. A person who has type 1 diabetes must take insulin on a regular basis to live. Only about five percent of all people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes, affecting about 95% of diabetics, develops over time due to genetics and lifestyle factors. These factors include physical inactivity and poor diet. In type 2 diabetes, the cells don’t recognize and properly use the insulin that the body produces, a problem known as insulin resistance.
- Certain people are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than others. This includes those people with: 1) a family history of the disease, 2) excess body weight, 3) low physical activity, 4) high blood pressure, 5) abnormal blood lipids (HDL under 35 mg/dL or triglycerides higher than 250 mg/dL), and 6) diabetes during a previous pregnancy. People over the age of 45 and certain ethnic groups, including African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans, are also at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Many people with type 2 diabetes do not realize that they have it. Symptoms most commonly associated with type 2 diabetes include feeling thirsty, having to urinate more than usual, staying hungry, tiredness, and losing weight without trying. Many people with type 2 diabetes, however, have no symptoms at all. According to the American Diabetes Association, about 16 million people in the United States, or approximately one-third of all people with diabetes, are unaware that they have it.
- Before developing type 2 diabetes, most people have a condition known as “prediabetes”. In prediabetes, blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as having diabetes. Approximately 79 million people in the United States have prediabetes. Although prediabetes is usually not associated with symptoms, long-term damage to the body, especially the heart and circulatory system, may already be occurring.
- Complications of diabetes can affect many areas of the body. Sugar or glucose that is not converted into energy by the cells can damage the blood vessels, heart, nerve endings, kidneys and eyes. This results in an increased risk of stroke, high blood pressure, blindness, kidney disease and amputations of the limbs. Fortunately, good control of diabetes can significantly reduce the risk of developing or worsening of complications. Consider these statistics related to diabetes-related complications:
- Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in adults.
- Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure.
- About 60% to 70% of people with diabetes have mild to severe forms of nerve damage.
- The risk for stroke is 2 to 4 times higher among people with diabetes.
- Adults with diabetes have heart disease death rates about 2 to 4 times higher than adults who do not have diabetes.
- Type 2 diabetes is not just an adult disease. In In the past, children with diabetes almost always had type 1, the variety that occurs when the immune system attacks the pancreas, resulting in insulin deficiency. Over the past decade, however, there has been a marked increase in the number of children and adolescents diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Most of these cases appear to be related to a combination of obesity and physical inactivity. The actual number of children with type 2 diabetes may even be underestimated since it can remain asymptomatic and undiagnosed for a long time.
- Diagnosing type 2 diabetes is easy. On One of the best and easiest ways to check for diabetes is by drawing blood from the arm after not eating for 8 hours and measuring the amount of glucose in the plasma. The American Diabetes Association recommends testing for diabetes every 3 years in everyone over the age of 45. The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that people with blood pressure higher than 136/80 also be tested. Testing for diabetes should begin at a younger age in someone who is overweight and has risk factors, such as a parent with type 2 diabetes, or is a member of certain ethnic groups, including African and Native Americans.
- A 3rd type of diabetes affects pregnant women. Known as gestational diabetes, this type of diabetes usually starts in the middle part of the pregnancy. Like type 2 diabetes, it is associated with insulin resistance and elevated blood sugar. The excess sugar in the bloodstream commonly causes the baby to grow too large (macrosomia). Potential complications of gestational diabetes include an increased risk of newborn death and stillbirth, delivery-related complications due the infant’s large size, and an increased risk of the child developing diabetes later in life. All pregnant women should receive an oral glucose tolerance test between the 24th and 28th week of pregnancy to screen for the condition.
- Type 2 Diabetes is often a preventable disease. The good news is that in many people with risk factors or who have prediabetes, type 2 diabetes can be prevented. In these people, moderate weight loss (10-15 pounds) along with 30 minutes of moderate physical activity (such as brisk walking) each day is often enough to prevent its development.
To learn more about type 2 diabetes, refer to the CDC’s Diabetes and Me or see
Diabetes Basics sponsored by the American Diabetes Association.