In the United States, there are many health care concerns that we must face collectively, and we would be wise to pool our knowledge and resources when waging the necessary battles. Diabetes is one such disease that commands the attention of the nation, regardless of sex, race, financial status or age. As November is American Diabetes Month, there is no better time than the present to reflect upon our need to address this disease together.
Diabetes is typically divided into two separate “types.” Type 1 is a chronic disease where the body’s immune system destroys insulin producing cells in the pancreas. Symptoms of type 1 diabetes often include weight loss, polyuria and polydipsia, the metabolic response to insulin deficiency. Type 1 can also increase the risk of ketoacidosis, a complex disease resulting from various genetic and/or environmental factors. Unfortunately, the incidence of childhood type 1 diabetes is on the rise, starting as early as infancy.
Type 2 diabetes is far more common, accounting for over 90% of cases. Often called non-insulin dependent diabetes, it is characterized by chronic hyperglycemia, as the body either does not make enough insulin or cannot adequately process the insulin made. It may lead to a shortened life expectancy as it increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, peripheral neuropathy, renal disease, blindness and amputation.
At the present rate, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that as many as one in three Americans could develop diabetes by 2050 unless a significant dent is made in our nation’s obesity epidemic. “The numbers are alarming,” says Ann Albright, PhD, RD, director of the CDC’s division of diabetes translation.
“We really need to focus more attention and effort on prevention,” says Albright. “People are living longer, and we are identifying diabetes earlier in course of the diseases and improving outcomes for those that have the disease. The major negative is the new cases of type 2 diabetes, and that is why prevention is so important. If we don’t work on prevention, these gains will be undermined.”
But recognizing the warning signs is only half the battle. Doctors and hospitals must also work with patients to help them understand and manage the disease on a daily basis. Comprehending the ways in which diabetes assimilates itself into an individual’s life is a critical component in fighting the disease, as is teaching patients to cope with the lifestyle and intellectual challenges the situation demands. Psychological health concerns are more common in people with diabetes than the general population, yet it is the individuals themselves who must ultimately bear the burden of choosing how well they manage their condition, and health care professionals must be mindful of this dynamic.