Elizabeth S. Reames | 4/22/2005 1:14:14 AM
The fourth Tuesday in March is an important occasion for LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames. On that day, March 22, the American Diabetes Association holds its annual "Alert" to locate the millions of Americans with undiagnosed diabetes.
Reames says the Alert is a one-day call-to-action for people to find out if they are at risk for the disease. "Diabetes is serious, and you can have it without even knowing it," she says.
According to the American Diabetes Association, 18.2 million Americans have diabetes, and about 151,000 young people under 20 years of age have diabetes.
Some people are more susceptible to diabetes. They include those who have family members with diabetes, certain ethnic groups, including Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islanders, and people with some other health problems, such as being overweight.
"Diabetes is a serious chronic (lifelong) disease," Reames says, noting that there is no cure for it yet. "Because there is no cure, people with diabetes must learn to manage the disease and take care of themselves properly," she says.
People with diabetes either can’t make or properly use a hormone called insulin. Without insulin, glucose (sugar) levels in the blood get very high, since the body can’t use the sugar from digested food for energy.
Two major types of diabetes are type 1 and type 2. Type 1 is a disease in which the body does not produce insulin. This condition most often occurs in children and young adults. People with type 1 diabetes must take daily insulin by injection or pump to stay alive.
Type 2 results from the body’s inability to make enough or properly use insulin. It is the most common form of the disease, accounting for more than 90 percent of diabetes cases.
Reames says type 2 diabetes is nearing epidemic proportions in both children and youth because of a greater prevalence of obesity and sedentary lifestyles.
Warning signs of diabetes include frequent urination, thirst, hunger, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, irritability, slow healing of wounds or sores, tingling or numbness in hands or feet, dry skin, itching, blurry vision and high blood pressure.
Reames notes that people with type 2 diabetes often have no symptoms. In type 2 diabetes, blood sugar levels rise intermittently or so slowly that a person usually does not have symptoms and may have the disease for many years before diagnosis.
A recent study conducted at 27 research centers in the United States found that by adopting a moderate, consistent diet and exercise program, many people with one or more of the risk factors for type 2 diabetes can stop the disease before it becomes irreversible.
The study found that not only did changes in diet and physical activity prevent or delay the development of diabetes, they actually restored normal glucose levels in many people who had impaired glucose tolerance. These findings support the recommendations given through the LSU AgCenter’s Diabetes Education Awareness Recommendations (DEAR) Program.