Diabetes – The Silent Killer

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Like many other Hispanic families, my family has its battle with diabetes. My mother was the first to be diagnosed. Her diabetes was set off by her first pregnancy. It later developed into a permanent condition. Afterward, my uncle and my maternal grandmother where diagnosed with diabetes. A few years ago my paternal grandmother was also diagnosed with the same condition. Having so many members of my family suffer from diabetes makes me a potential candidate to suffer from it as well. Unfortunately, there are many young people like me who are at risk.

In the year 2007, the Center of Disease Control and Prevention reported that approximately 24 million people in the U.S. had diabetes. Of this staggering number about 10% were Hispanic. That means that in 2007 about 2 million Hispanics in the U.S. suffered from diabetes. As a matter of fact, diabetes is mostly prevalent among Latinos.

What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a medical condition that causes levels of sugar, or glucose, to rise in the body. The problem starts at the pancreas, an organ under the stomach that makes the hormone insulin which helps regulate glucose levels in body cells. Insulin also helps the body turn glucose into energy. When the pancreas is unable to make enough insulin or the body cannot use the insulin, the insulin starts to accumulate in the blood resulting in diabetes. The reason this can be dangerous is because it could lead to health complications such as blindness, kidney failure and amputations.

Both genetics and the type of lifestyle a person leads can affect a person‘s probability of having this disease. There are two types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. When a person has type 1 diabetes, the body produces very little or no insulin at all. It is usually diagnosed in children and teens and is believed to be genetic. Type 2 diabetes is more common and has been linked to excess weight and inactivity. People who suffer from type 2 diabetes either do not produce enough insulin or their bodies reject the insulin they produce.

Spotting the Symptoms
The main symptoms of diabetes type 1 and 2 are frequent urination, increased thirst and increased hunger which are caused by the increased levels of glucose in the body. Other symptoms might include fatigue, blurred vision, wounds that don’t heal, skin infections, and numbness or tingling in the hands and feet.

“We ask that you learn to identify differences in your body. If all of a sudden you’re experiencing [symptoms] and you know it’s not normal then you should check yourself,” Ms. Krasey said, Marketing Coordinator at the Diabetes Association.

Treating the Disease
It’s important to diagnose and treat diabetes early. “Diabetes is called the silent killer. Usually what happens is that you fail to identify the symptoms and as time goes by there can be complications,” Ms. Krasey cautioned. The sugar accumulated in the body can cause damage to blood vessels. Kidneys are made up of tiny blood vessel clusters and can be damaged severely which can require a transplant if diabetes is not treated. High blood sugar levels affect the eye blood vessels which can eventually lead to blindness. Diabetes can also increase the risk of heart disease and Alzheimer’s.

Eating well and exercising regularly are essential to maintaining control of sugar levels and having a long life. Diabetes has no cure, so a person diagnosed with it who wishes to live a healthy life must commit to lifelong changes in their lifestyle. Blood sugar monitoring is a vital part of treating diabetes and it can save a person’s life. Changing glucose levels can be dangerous. Blood sugar monitoring is the only way to keep track of blood sugar levels which can change suddenly even with a strict diet. When a person’s blood sugar levels are at an extreme high or low, the person must seek immediate medical attention; seek an adult’s help or call 911.

For all type 1 and some type 2 diabetics insulin injections are essential to survive. However, oral insulin is also available for type 2 diabetics who are able to successfully control their insulin levels. There are many groups, such as the American Diabetes Association, that provide classes and support groups to help people learn how to treat diabetes and maintain a healthful lifestyle. If you think you might have diabetes, they can also provide low cost exams.

Living with Diabetes
Maria Teresa Cerqueira, Chief of the U.S.-Mexico Border Office for the World Health Organization stresses that the key to prevent diabetes is to maintain a healthy weight. “People should find a way to move, to keep active.” She recommends people exercise for about an hour a day, by either walking more or doing other activities they enjoy. Group activates are a good way of keeping active while having fun. “You don’t have to be a supermodel, just be healthy.” Ms. Cerqueira also mentioned that to keep a healthy weight, it is important to maintain a good self-esteem and drink plenty of water.

Although diabetes is a serious condition, Ms. Krasey also stressed that diabetes is not contagious. “Some kids hear diabetes and they get scared.” There is no way to contract this disease from other people.

November is diabetes awareness month. Let’s help raise awareness by wearing blue on Nov. 14. Eat well, be active and encourage others to do the same. It’s the only way to prevent and stop this disease.

November 2010

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