UC HEALTH LINE: Millions of Americans Unaware They Have a Deadly Disease
More than 18 million people have the fifth-deadliest disease in the United States and 5.2 million of them don’t even know it.
According to the American Diabetes Association, 6.3 percent of the population has diabetes, a disease in which the body doesn’t produce or properly use insulin. The University of Cincinnati’s Diabetes Center estimates that there are 10,000 people with type 1 diabetes and 140,000 with type 2 diabetes in Hamilton County alone.
What you should know about diabetes:
Who gets diabetes—Diabetes occurs in people of all ages and races, but some groups are at a higher risk than others, including African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans and older adults.
“The incidence of diabetes is growing rapidly, which is why it’s important for people to be aware of the disease and take measures to ensure they are properly diagnosed and have their blood glucose levels managed,” says diabetologist Barbara Ramlo-Halsted, MD, director of the Diabetes Center.
Symptoms of diabetes—Frequent urination, excessive thirst, extreme hunger, unusual weight loss, increased fatigue, irritability and blurry vision.
“If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should see your family doctor,” says Dr. Ramlo-Halsted. “Your doctor can perform tests to check your blood glucose level and diagnose the disease.”
The sooner you know you have diabetes, the better—“People with diabetes can experience problems with their hands, feet, eyes and kidneys, among other health concerns,” says Dr. Ramlo-Halsted. “That’s why it’s critical for them to manage their condition. Those who do so have a greater chance of preventing these health problems.”
What you can do to help prevent diabetes—More than 40 million people between the ages of 40 and 74 have pre-diabetes–glucose levels that are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diabetes. It’s possible for adults to have pre-diabetes and not know it because they don’t have any symptoms. That’s why overweight adults who are 45 or older should be checked for pre-diabetes during their regular visits to the doctor.
If you are over 45 and within a normal weight range, ask your doctor if testing is appropriate.
If you are younger than 45 and overweight, your doctor may recommend testing if you have other risk factors for diabetes or pre-diabetes, such as high blood pressure, low HDL cholesterol and high triglycerides, a family history of diabetes, a history of gestational diabetes or belong to an ethnic group at high risk for diabetes.
If your blood glucose levels are in the normal range, it’s reasonable to be tested every three years. If you have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes, you should be tested for type 2 diabetes every one to two years.
“Research has shown that there are two major influences that can help people with pre-diabetes prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes—exercise and improved nutrition. Many people are aware that physical activity and healthful nutritional habits can help prevent many diseases, and diabetes is no exception,” says Dr. Ramlo-Halsted. “Obesity also contributes to diabetes, so it’s important to maintain a healthy weight. Exercising 30 minutes a day and losing just 5–10 percent of your body weight can reduce your chances of developing diabetes by about half.”
UC’s Diabetes Center is the only comprehensive adult diabetes center in the region and works closely with patients’ primary health care providers to ensure the creation of a coordinated care plan. The center offers self-management education classes on topics including how to monitor blood glucose, guidelines for dining out, how to read food labels, the benefits of increased physical activity, and psychologically adjusting to living with diabetes, among others.
"UC Health Line” contains timely health information and is distributed every Tuesday by the UC Academic Health Center Public Relations and Communications Office.