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Astonishing 7.5 percent of Americans have diabetes

SPRINGFIELD — The numbers are in, and doctors aren’t happy.
The 2011 National Diabetes Fact Sheet reports an astounding 25.8 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes. Even more troubling, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention project cases to double, or even triple, before 2050.
In Massachusetts, the diabetes rate in 1995 was 4.5 percent compared to 7.5 percent today. The rise in diabetes locally and in the United States is of concern to physicians such as Dr. Saby Sen of the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism at Baystate Medical Center, as well as many public health experts, who find the numbers more troublesome than rising levels of high blood pressure and cholesterol.
“The patients we are seeing today in our diabetes practice are coming to us with more complications than ever before. More patients need to be identified earlier by their primary care doctors as pre-diabetic. Instead, many are coming to see us for therapy when they are already diabetic. By that time, it may be too late to reverse some of the damage that may have already been done to their bodies,” Sen said.
Complications of diabetes include heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney damage and limb amputations. Many also struggle with high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Also, African Americans and Hispanics are more at risk for the disease.
November is American Diabetes Month, which brings attention to the seriousness of diabetes and the importance of prevention and control.
Diabetes is a common disease that occurs when the body does not produce or properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life. Persons with type 1 diabetes, previously called juvenile-onset diabetes, have a total lack of insulin, which requires insulin injections or a pump. Those with type 2 diabetes, previously called adult-onset diabetes, have insulin but cannot use it effectively and are in a state of “insulin resistance.”
Symptoms of diabetes include frequent urination, unusual thirst, extreme hunger, unusual weight loss, and extreme fatigue and irritability. Also, those with type 2 diabetes may have frequent infections, blurred vision, cuts and bruises that are slow to heal, tingling/numbness in the hands or feet, and recurring skin, gum or bladder infections.
According to Sen, diabetes often goes undiagnosed and many times persons with type 2 diabetes have no symptoms. “Even if you have no symptoms, you should be tested annually for diabetes,” he said about a common blood test that will identify elevated glucose levels. He noted this is particularly relevant for those who are prone to developing the disease, such as persons who are obese or have high cholesterol, pregnant women, and others with a strong family history of diabetes.
“Patients need to be identified when they are pre-diabetic, so they can be put on a diet and exercise regimen to help prevent getting diabetes. And, if they have high cholesterol or high blood pressure, both need to be controlled, as well,” Sen said.
The Baystate Medical Center endocrinologist noted reducing a person’s risk of type 2 diabetes is simply a matter of common sense — adopting a healthy lifestyle.
“Eating a healthy diet, maintaining a proper weight, and increasing your level of physical activity will help reduce your risk of developing diabetes, and will also go a long way in maintaining your overall health,” Sen said.
“Americans today lead an especially hectic lifestyle and need to de-stress. Stress increases blood sugar levels in the body, which for some may rise to dangerous levels and complicate their diabetes,” he added.
Diabetes is also one of the most common chronic diseases in children and adolescents with about 151,000 people younger than 20 afflicted with diabetes.
And, there are no signs of the numbers slowing in children.
“Our goal as pediatricians is to diagnose as many children as possible with any nuances of type 1 diabetes before they exhibit any serious symptoms. We look to parents to identify symptoms as early as possible and to make an appointment with their child’s pediatrician,” Dr. Holley Allen, chief, Division of Pediatric Endocrinology, Baystate Children’s Hospital, said.
She noted one of the difficulties in identifying type 1 diabetes is that it can masquerade as other common childhood illnesses, such as gastroenteritis and anorexia nervosa. Also, many times parents dismiss the symptom of increased urination, attributing it to the fact their child has been drinking more. As a result, parents often limit their child’s water intake, which can be dangerous and lead to dehydration.
“It is especially important to diagnose children as early as possible because studies have shown that early detection and treatment can decrease the chance of developing complications of diabetes later in life,” Allen said.
When most children are diagnosed with diabetes, more often than not, it is assumed to be type 1. However, there has been a worldwide explosion over the past decades in the incidence of type 2 diabetes among young people. This has been attributed to a sedentary lifestyle devoid of exercise and too much time spent in front of the television or computer, combined with a diet rich in fast foods.
“Helping to feed the epidemic of juvenile diabetes is a de-emphasis of physical education in the schools today along with school lunch programs which are often high in fat and sugar,” Allen said.
“If kids aren’t learning to make exercise an important part of their lifestyle, and learning to eat healthy, both at school and at home, then we are doing them a disservice in terms of their future health,” she added.
Go online to www.baystatehealth.org/diabetes to take a Diabetes Risk Test to see if you are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
The Diabetes Self Management Education Program at Baystate Medical Center was the first in Western Massachusetts to be accredited by the American Diabetes Association. The program, supervised by Karen Zapka, a certified diabetes educator (CDE), is designed to assist patients with individual instruction to gain independence and confidence to self-manage their diabetes. Appointments can be arranged by calling 794-2222, and selecting option zero.
For an appointment with a physician specializing in adult diabetes, call Baystate Endocrinology and Diabetes at 794-7031, or for children, call Baystate Children’s Hospital at 794-0813.
Also, for more information on Baystate Medical Center, visit baystatehealth.org/bmc, or for Baystate Children’s Hospital, visit baystatehealth.org/bch.
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