Diabetes is a disease that affects the way the body uses glucose (say: gloo-kose), a sugar that is the body's primary source of fuel. It is a chronic condition that requires close attention, but with some practical knowledge, you can become your most important ally in learning to live with the problem.
"The prevalence of diabetes is going up because obesity is going up," says Judith Fradkin, director of the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. Generally, the first step in treatment is to make patients believe that this is a disease that can be effectively controlled. "The amount of money it will cost in 10 years to manage diabetes is going to bust the economies of many countries" says institute president Paul Robertson.
Diabetes, caused by the body's inability to manufacture or use insulin effectively to prevent a buildup of sugar in the blood, now affects almost 21 million in the United States and roughly 250 million worldwide. It is a disease that can also cause long-term complications in some persons, including heart disease, stroke, vision impairment, kidney damage and can also cause other problems in the blood vessels, nerves, and gums.
During the past decade, medical studies have shown that by lowering high blood pressure and cholesterol and keeping blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible, diabetics can forestall many of the disabling complications that once appeared inevitable.
"This information, along with simpler, more accurate blood tests and better drugs, has improved treatment", says Buse, an endocrinologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "New drug treatments, more accurate ways for monitoring blood sugar levels and assessing control of diabetes, and practical steps that people can take are more common than ever", she says. "Before 1993, it wasn't clear that decreasing blood sugar prevented or delayed complications, and it's only within the past 10 years that MD's learned that controlling blood pressure and cholesterol reduced complications", she says.
There are two primary kinds of diabetes: type 1, an autoimmune disease that results in loss of the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas and occurs most often in children or young adults, who need daily insulin shots; and type 2, which accounts for 90% of diabetes cases and is associated with obesity and inactivity and decreases the body's ability to use insulin effectively.
Type 1 diabetes (formerly known as insulin-dependent diabetes or juvenile diabetes) happens when the person's own immune system attacks and destroys the cells of the pancreas that manufacture insulin. Type 1 diabetes occurs at about the same rate in men and women, but it is more commonly found in Whites than in minorities.
Type 2 diabetes (formerly called non-insulin-dependent diabetes) is different. It is the most common type of diabetes and about 9 out of 10 people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. It is more common in older people, mainly in people who are overweight.
The best way to prevent diabetes is to make some lifestyle changes and maintain a healthy weight.
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