More than 180 million people worldwide have diabetes, according to the World Health Organization. In 2005, an estimated 1.1 million people died from the disease.
“Diabetes causes more deaths than breast cancer and AIDS combined,” said Jennifer Polello, manager for the CHER Diabetes Education Center at Inland Northwest Health Services.
But Type 2 diabetes – a state in which the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells do not react to the insulin – can indeed be prevented, she stressed.
People with diabetes also can manage the disease with oral medication or insulin as well as changes in diet and lifestyle.
According to a major clinical research study known as the national Diabetes Prevention Program, people who have blood glucose levels that are higher than normal and are at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes still have a 58 percent chance of preventing diabetes by losing weight and improving their eating and exercise habits.
But some people simply give up or they lack the awareness or resources to seek help.
Every month, the Diabetes Education Center receives about 100 to 150 physician referrals, but about 40 percent of the patients never call for an appointment, said Polello.
The problem, she said, may be due to the fact that people with Type 2 diabetes show no symptoms at all.
“They don’t feel sick or if their blood sugar has been out of control for a long time, they’ve become used to operating that way,” Polello said.
Some signs of diabetes include blurred vision, frequent urination, extreme weight loss and fatigue. Those who have had the disease for a while without knowing it may experience tingling or numbness in their extremities.
Type 2, which is the most common form of diabetes, is a disease that’s normally associated with older adults. But with the growing obesity rate in the United States, more young people and even children are getting diagnosed with Type 2.
According to the Eastern Washington Diabetes Network, the disease affects close to 1.3 million people in Washington state. Of that total, roughly 900,000 have pre-diabetes and another 100,000 remain undiagnosed.
The rate has doubled since 1990 with the increase in obesity as well as an aging population.
Diabetes is also the cause or a contributing factor in nearly 4,000 deaths and 67,000 hospitalizations per year.
Despite the statistics, diabetes isn’t a death sentence, Polello said. It can be managed through medication and an insulin pump and also by maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise.
Along with physicians or endocrinologists, a person with diabetes can also get support from a certified diabetes educator, who can help with carbohydrate counting, blood glucose monitoring and other needs.
“Find out if you’re at risk,” emphasized Polello. “If you are at risk, remember that there are things you can do to prevent diabetes. …
“For those who have diabetes, it’s important for them to know that they can still live a normal life and take control of this disease.”