Diabetes, a disease that alters the body’s capability to utilize glucose effectively, plays a significant role in the deaths of more than 200,000 Americans each year, six times the number in 1950. Diabetes is the fifth deadliest disease in the United States, and it has no cure. The total annual economic cost of diabetes in 2002 was estimated to be $132 billion, or one out of every 10 health care dollars spent in the United States. Increased risks of stroke and heart disease are associated with diabetes. “These life-threatening consequences strike people with diabetes more than twice as often as they do others” (American Diabetes Association, 2006). Further complications associated with diabetes include kidney disease, blindness, and the threat of amputations. This health concern currently affects about 16 million people in the United States with an estimated five million of those unaware of their condition. These numbers increase every year along with the rising costs associated with health care provisions. This discussion examines what diabetes is, the lifestyle and genetic risk factors of the disease, and its potential health consequences. It will also discuss preventative measures as well as proper diet and care for those afflicted with the disease.
A primary factor in diabetes is the level of insulin present in the body. Insulin is a chemical the body produces naturally to manage the induction of glucose into the system. When the body produces too little amounts of insulin, greater amounts of glucose are allowed to enter the bloodstream thereby causing the symptoms of the disease called diabetes. Glucose, a simple sugar, enters the body by way of ingested food and into every red blood cell via the bloodstream; the cells then break down the glucose which acts to supply energy throughout the body. Brain cells, as well as other organs, are fueled by glucose alone. In diabetics, the body does not keep a stable amount of glucose in the cells. This means the body has more than the necessary glucose levels immediately after a meal but too little otherwise. To maintain a constant blood-glucose level, the healthy body produces glucagon and insulin, two hormones originating from the pancreas. Typically, there is a balance of these hormones in the bloodstream with the insulin acting to prevent the concentration of blood glucose from increasing disproportionately.
There are generally two types of diabetes that have been identified, differing primarily in the onset and cause and referred to as Type One and Type Two diabetes. Type One diabetes, or juvenile diabetes, is caused by the body’s inability to produce insulin. Occurring primarily in children, this type occurs afflicts less than 10 percent of all diabetics. Type Two refers to ‘non-insulin-dependent’ or ‘adult-onset diabetes’ and describes the condition in which the body manufactures insulin but cannot process it. More than 90 percent of diabetics suffer from this type which normally afflicts those over 40 years of age. “Type Two diabetics have an abnormal glucose-tolerance test and higher than normal levels of insulin in their blood” (Freudenrich, 2002). The immune system, the environment, and genetics are factors that influence Type One diabetes but the risk factors are more clearly defined for Type Two diabetes. These include obesity, physical inactivity, elderly people, a family history of diabetes, a past history of gestational diabetes, and those with a weakened tolerance for glucose. Ethnicity is another risk factor. “African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, and some Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are at particularly high risk for Type Two diabetes” (American Diabetes Association, 2006).
Type One diabetics must examine their blood-glucose levels many times per day and inject insulin accordingly, usually at mealtime so as to help manage the glucose being ingested. The supplementation of insulin assures that blood glucose levels maintain stability. Type Two diabetics have the ability to control the disease through personal lifestyle decisions such as the loss of weight, exercising more, and not smoking at all. In severe instances, medication may need to be given to control glucose levels. Diabetics are able to significantly decrease the risks of complications due to the disease if they are willing to educate themselves then apply that knowledge to their daily lives.
American Diabetes Association. “Diabetes Statistics for African Americans.” All About Diabetes. 2006. American Diabetes Association. 2008. Web.
Freudenrich, Craig. “How Diabetes Works.” 2006. How Stuff Works. 2008. Web.