What is Diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus -often called "sugar disease" - is a serious disorder that can lead to blindness, amputation, kidney failure, stroke, and heart attacks. Marked by the inability to manufacture or properly use insulin, diabetes impairs your body's ability to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy. The long-term effect is damage to the eyes, heart, kidneys, feet, nerves, and blood vessels.
  • An estimated 16 million Americans have diabetes, yet half of them - eight million people - don't know it, putting themselves at terrible risk:
  • Diabetes claims more lives each year than either AIDS or breast cancer - 178,000 people died from diabetes last year alone.
  • Each year, more than 67,000 lower limbs are amputated due to complications from diabetes.
  • Diabetes is the leading cause of end-stage kidney disease.
  • Individuals with diabetes are two to four times more likely than the general population to experience heart disease and stroke.
  • Among adults under the age of 75, diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness.

While there is currently no cure for diabetes, there is hope. With proper diet, exercise, medical care and watchful management at home, a person with diabetes can keep the most serious of these consequences at bay.

Until there is a cure, the key to living successfully with diabetes is early detection and early intervention.

How Do You Get Diabetes?

No one yet knows how you "get" diabetes, but once diagnosed, you will have the disease for the rest of your life. Certain characteristics put you at higher risk for developing diabetes:

Does someone in your family have diabetes?

  • Are you overweight?
  • Did you develop diabetes when you were pregnant?
  • Are you over the age of 45?
  • Are you a member of one of the following ethnic groups?
  • African American
    Hispanic American
    Native American
    Asian American
    Pacific Islander

If you answered "yes" to one or more of the preceding questions, you are at increased risk for developing diabetes at some point in your life. Certain characteristics are hereditary and you can't do anything about them. However, one of the most serious predictors of diabetes is within your control: your weight. More than 80% of people with diabetes are overweight, many of them obese.

One of the best ways to delay or prevent the onset of diabetes is to exercise and keep your weight down.

What If I Have Diabetes?

Because diabetes affects so many organs of the body; if you have the disease you will be treated by a team of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare specialists. Family physicians, nutritionists, endocrinologists, and podiatric physicians all work together to monitor your condition and keep your diabetes under control.

Proper care, hygiene, and inspection of the feet are critical for a person with diabetes. Nerves damaged by the disease are not as sensitive to pain, heat or cold, so people with diabetes can injure their feet, not know it, and develop infections. Poor circulation compounds the problem, by reducing the number of infection-fighting white blood cells that are carried to and from the wound site. If left untreated, an unhealed and infected wound can ultimately lead to amputation.

Fifteen percent of all people with diabetes will develop open wounds on their feet at some point during their lifetimes. Of these ulcerations, 20 percent will result in amputation. And more than 50 percent of those who undergo an amputation of one limb will also lose the other within three to five years.

Yet with strict adherence to diet, exercise, medication, and hygiene, more than half of the lower extremity amputations among people with diabetes could be prevented. The role of good foot care cannot be overemphasized in this equation.

Diabetes Warning Signs

  • The frequent urge to urinate

  • Increased infections

  • Abnormal weight loss

  • Blurred Vision

  • Slow to heal wounds

  • Tingling or numbness of the feet or hands

  • Extreme hunger