2010-11-04 / Local & State

How To Combat The Diabetes Epidemic

Nationally, the incidence of diabetes is frightening – it’s rising dramatically and is considered by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control to be “epidemic.”

23.6 million Americans have diabetes – 7.8 percent of the U.S. population. Of these, 5.7 million people don’t know they have the disease.

Each year, about 1.6 million people ages 20 or older are diagnosed with diabetes. That’s more than 4,000 new cases per day.

As of 2007, the number of people diagnosed with diabetes increased more than 1,000 percent, from 1.5 million in 1958 to 17.9 million in 2007.

In Pennsylvania alone, Approximately 762,000 adults have been diagnosed with diabetes.

What’s going on and why is diabetes so prevalent?

According to Harrisburgarea endocrinologist and Pennsylvania Medical Society member Wilfred Victorina, MD, F.A.C.E., “The increase in obesity goes hand-in-hand with an increase in diabetes – so much so, that the combination of overweight and diabetes has been called ‘diabesity.’ ” Key factors in the development of the condition are lack of physical activity, weight gain and genetics (family history). The bottom line is that it’s a disease of the pancreas where the insulin producing cells cannot keep up with the body’s demand and need for insulin.”

Victorina says there are many factors that contribute to the increased incidence of diabetes.

“We’re doing a better job of screening for and diagnosing diabetes. But we’re also seeing a more sedentary society, young and old, whose lack of activity impacts their bodies’ ability to use the insulin their body produces. We used to buy tricycles for kids. Now we buy kiddie cars with motors.”

He also explains that the more overweight and inactive we are, the more difficult it is for insulin to do its work in the body, a condition called insulin resistance. Eventually, we need even more insulin to help glucose (blood sugar) enter cells to be used for energy. The pancreas tries to keep up with this increased demand by producing more insulin and, over time, it fails. Excess glucose builds up in the bloodstream resulting in diabetes.

“It’s like trying to drive your car with the brakes on. You’ll eventually reach 50 mph, but you’ll wear out your machine trying to do it.”

Apparently, the prospect of developing diabetes isn’t too worrisome for many Pennsylvanians. The June 2010 Patient Poll, conducted by the Institute for Good Medicine at the Pennsylvania Medical Society, found that when asked “Whether or not you consider yourself to be overweight or obese, which of the following risk factors would concern you most about your own health?”Diabetes ranked among the lowest, along with sleep apnea and osteoarthritis.

What worries Victorina is that patients may not understand the importance of controlling blood sugars. Uncontrolled blood sugar damages the body’s blood vessels leading to cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, eye problems and loss of sensation in the feet that can lead to amputations.

“I really want patients to understand that these complications can be greatly reduced and sometimes reversed by controlling their blood sugars through healthy eating, physical activity, and use of medications. You owe it to yourself to do whatever it takes to try to prevent diabetes and/or preventing it from controlling your life.”

All of this has driven the Pennsylvania Medical Society and its Institute for Good Medicine to dedicate its featured story with a specially produced Web show on diabetes for the month of November at www.myfamilywellness.org to raise awareness of the seriousness of the disease.

Who should worry about developing diabetes?

According to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, you are at risk for diabetes if any of these statements describes you:

I am overweight

I am more than 45 years of age (those over 65 years of age are even higher risks)

I am inactive and get little or no exercise

I am a woman who had a baby weighing over nine pounds at birth

I am woman who has had gestational diabetes during pregnancy

I have a sibling or a parent with diabetes.

I have high blood pressure (more than equal to 140/90)

I am a member of a high risk ethnic group (African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, Asian American, Pacific Islander)

Signs and symptoms of diabetes include the following:

Urinating often Urinating at night

Being very thirsty

Feeling very hungry or tired

Losing weight without trying

Slow to heal sores

Dry, itchy skin

Tingling or numbness in legs, feet or fingers

Blurry eyesight

Frequent yeast infections

Victorina says that awareness is the key. “While medications can help control diabetes, taking charge of your health is the most important thing you can do. A good diabetes treatment plan will include lifestyle modifications including managing weight and increasing physical activity. You are better off being active, no matter what your weight or medical history. Remember that, even if you are genetically predisposed, there is still so much you can do. Your mother’s or grandfather’s story doesn’t have to be your own.”

For more information or to watch a video on diabetes, visit www.myfamilywellness.org, sponsored by the Institute for Good Medicine at the Pennsylvania Medical Society.

Return to top