Nicole Gregory

When it comes to the dangers of diabetes, Americans are pretty clueless. In a recent Harris poll, more people said they were afraid of shark bites and plane crashes than they were of diabetes. Yet in 2007, about 70 people were attacked by sharks and 419 people died in plane crashes. Compare this to the 233,619 adults who died of complications related to diabetes in 2005. There is no cure for diabetes, and its damage can be severe, leading to heart disease, stroke, nerve damage and kidney problems. “It’s also the number one cause of adult blindness and loss of limbs,” says Ann Albright, Ph.D., R.D., director of Division of Diabetes Translation at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

If that’s not enough to scare you, try this:

The American Diabetes Association estimates that over 23 million people in the United States have some form of diabetes, and nearly a quarter of them don’t know it. What’s more, a recent CDC analysis shows that the rate of new diabetes cases rose by a whopping 90 percent in the last 10 years.

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic condition where your body has trouble regulating glucose (sugar). The problem involves insulin, a hormone produced by your pancreas that breaks down sugar from the food you eat and delivers it to cells for energy. Without the proper amount of insulin, sugar builds up in the body, which can lead to complications, including heart and nerve disease, stroke, kidney problems, blindness and the need to amputate a limb.

What Are the Symptoms?

Most symptoms are easy to overlook and can seem relatively harmless at first, making them easy to ignore. Don’t. Ask your doctor to test you for diabetes if you have any the following symptoms:

- Excessive thirst

- Frequent urination

- Extreme hunger

- Numbness or tingling in your feet

- Unusual weight loss

- Cuts or infections that take a long time to heal

- Blurry vision

How Is Diabetes Diagnosed?

The standard test for diabetes is a fasting blood test, which measures glucose levels in your blood after eight or more hours of fasting. Typically, you have blood drawn first thing in the morning, before eating breakfast. That’s all there is to it!

How Is Diabetes Treated?

If it turns out that you have diabetes, don’t despair. You can still live a long and healthy life, by losing weight, exercising regularly, eating healthfully, working closely with your doctor and perhaps taking medication. What’s more, the earlier you are diagnosed, the better your chances of successfully managing the disease -- which is all the more reason to watch for early symptoms.

How Can I Lower My Risk?

If you don’t have diabetes, you can take steps now to lower your risk of ever developing the disease:

- Maintain a healthy weight

- Get regular exercise

- Eat a healthful diet that is low in fat and high in fiber

When it comes to diabetes, “ignorance is not bliss,” says Albright. “Ignorance will lead to very dangerous outcomes.” So take charge of your health. Learn about diabetes. Lower your risk. While it won’t save you from shark bites and plane crashes, it will help you avoid a far greater threat.


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Health - Diabetes: Could You Have Diabetes and Not Know It