Diabetes | A Deadly, but Treatable Disease

Nearly 16 million Americans have a deadly disease and may not even know it. Diabetes – one of the nation’s leading causes of death – kills almost 190,000 people a year. Classified into types, diabetes is an equal opportunity disease that doesn’t discriminate by age, gender or race.

Type 1 diabetes, which affects between 500,000 to 1 million people in the United States, occurs when the body fails to produce insulin – the hormone that unlocks the cells, allowing glucose to enter and fuel them. In people without this disease, beta cells make insulin in the pancreas. With each meal, these cells release insulin to help the body use or store the glucose it gets from food. But in people with type 1 diabetes, the pancreas no longer makes insulin because beta cells have been destroyed. Patients with type 1 need insulin shots to live so the cells can take in glucose.

Type 1 diabetes has a peak incidence during puberty – around 10 to 12 years in girls and 12 to 14 years in boys. Symptoms can mimic the flu in children.

Of the nearly 16 million Americans with diabetes, 90 to 95 percents have type 2. Different from type 1, type 2 diabetes occurs when the body fails to make enough insulin or when it doesn’t use insulin properly.

Unlike the childhood onset of type 1 diabetes, people with type 2 typically develop the disease after 45; the risk of developing type 2 increases with age. Usually, people aren’t aware they have diabetes until severe symptoms arise or one of its serious complications requires treatment. Some examples of diabetes complications include blindness, kidney disease, stroke, nerve disease and amputations.

Because of its complications, diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. Each year, at least 190,000 people die from the condition and its complications, although it’s believed diabetes-related deaths are under-reported.

To prevent diabetes complication, you must seek proper treatment. Often type 2 diabetes can be controlled through weight loss, proper diet and exercise. But some people with type 2 diabetes need pills or insulin shots to help their bodies use glucose for energy.

Four forms of insulin can keep diabetes under control:

Rapid-acting insulin. This form of insulin reaches the blood within 15 minutes after injection. It peaks 30 to 90 minutes later and may last as long as five hours.

Short-acting (regular) insulin. Usually reaching the blood within 30 minutes after injection, short-acting insulin peaks two to four hours after the injection and stays in the blood for about four to eight hours.

Intermediate-acting insulin. This form of insulin reaches the blood two to six hours after injection and peaks four to 14 hours later. Intermediate-acting insulin stays in the blood for about 14 to 20 hours.

Long-acting insulin. With almost no peak 10 to 16 hours after injection, long-acting insulin takes six to 14 hours to start working. This form stays in the blood between 20 and 24 hours.

While managing the disease with insulin is important, so too are diet, exercise and weight loss. The best diet should be low in fat, include only moderate amounts of protein, and be high in complex carbohydrates, such as beans, vegetables and grains. Most importantly, you need to plan your diet. Be sure to eat about the same number of calories each day, plan your meals and snacks for the same times each day and never skip meals.

To help your cells take in blood sugar, you also need to exercise. About 30 minutes a day, most days of the week is recommended. If this seems overwhelming, break the 30 minutes into several shorter sessions throughout the day. Before doing anything, however, talk with your health care provider about setting up an exercise plan.

Along with exercise, weight loss is another important component of treatment. If you’re overweight, shedding those extra pounds will help your body use insulin better. The best way to lose weight is to exercise and follow a healthy meal plan. Your health care provider will help decide how much you should lose.

Information adapted from the American Diabetes Association.