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Many Are Unaware Of Diabetes Threat
By Laura Martin
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippians have 240,000 reasons to recognize November as National Diabetes Month.
Known as the silent killer, diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death by disease in the United States, claiming thousands of lives annually.
"People don't think it is as serious as it is," said Patricia Boyd, community development director with the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi.
An estimated 240,000 Mississippians have diabetes, according to the Center for Disease Control; 80,000 of those are unaware they have the disease. A total of 15.7 million people nationwide have diabetes.
"By the time many people find out they have the disease, they've already developed problems," Boyd said. "If you take good care of yourself, you can delay the complications."
These complications include heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, blindness, kidney disease, nervous system disease, amputations, dental disease and problems during pregnancy.
Diabetes affects the body's ability to produce or respond to a hormone called insulin which helps glucose get into body cells. Most food is turned into glucose for the body to use for energy. In diabetics, glucose cannot reach the starved cells and builds up in the blood. As a result, diabetes can have devastating effects on organs.
Diabetes falls into two main categories: Type 1, which usually appears during childhood or adolescence, and Type 2, the most common form of the disease, usually occurring after age 45.
One out of 10 people with diabetes has Type 1. Because their bodies do not make any insulin, they must inject insulin every day to live. The other diabetics with Type 2 can produce some insulin, but their body can't use it properly.
Certain risk factors make people more likely to get Type 2 diabetes. These include a family history of diabetes, lack of exercise, being overweight, and being of African American, American Indian, Hispanic/Latino or Asian/Pacific Islander descent.
Linda Patterson, a registered nurse and health education specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, advised diabetics to follow four steps for blood sugar control.
- Use prescribed medicine correctly.
- Follow a meal plan with healthy amounts and types of food on a regular schedule.
- Monitor blood sugar levels regularly at home and at the doctor's office or clinic.
- Be prepared to change plans according to a shift in activity or personal health.
These steps help people manage diabetes by controlling body weight, making healthy food choices and getting regular physical activity, Patterson said. Some people also need to take diabetic medications or insulin shots to help lower their blood sugar level to normal levels.
Patterson suggested following a regular exercise plan to improve the body's ability to use glucose for energy.
"Exercise keeps weight down, is good for the heart and lungs and gives you more energy," Patterson said. "It also helps regulate blood sugar. As a result of consistent, regular exercise, chemical processes in the muscles are improved."
The cause of diabetes is a mystery, although both genetics and lack of exercise appear to play roles. There is no known cure. Medications and treatments can only control it. In Mississippi, medical care and other indirect costs for diabetics totaled $1.6 billion in 1996, according to the Center for Disease Control.
Diabetes is a common, serious and costly disease that poses a major public health problem. Prevention and awareness programs are available throughout the state. For more information about diabetes, contact the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi at 1-877-DFM CURE (1-877-336-2873).