CNI Article: Diabetes Can Go Undiagnosed for Years

Monday, July 12, 2004

Could you be one of the 5.2 million Americans with undiagnosed diabetes? Of the 18.2 million people in the U.S. who have diabetes, nearly one-third of them are unaware that they have the disease. Some people with diabetes may go undiagnosed for years.

Diabetes is a chronic disease associated with abnormally high levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood. While the body needs glucose for energy, too much glucose in the blood is not good.

Insulin, made in the pancreas, helps the glucose from food get into your cells. If the pancreas does not make enough insulin, or if the insulin doesn’t work the way it should, glucose cannot get into the cells and stays in the blood instead. The cause of diabetes is not fully understood. The disease can be managed, but not cured.

The signs of diabetes include being very thirsty, frequent urination, feeling very hungry or tired, losing weight without trying, sores that heal slowly, losing feeling in your feet, tingling in your feet, and blurry eyesight. You may have had one or more of these signs—but many people have had no signs at all.

That’s why it’s important for your doctor to do a blood sugar test to check for diabetes. This test should be done every three years if you’re age 45 or older. You should be tested more often if you’re at high risk for diabetes due to obesity, high blood pressure, a family history of diabetes, abnormal lipid levels (a fat-like substance in the blood), or a history of gestational diabetes, which occurs in late pregnancy. Other people at higher risk include African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian Indians, and Native Americans.

Types of diabetes:

  • About 10 percent of people with diabetes have Type 1 diabetes (insulin-dependent). This is usually first diagnosed in children, teenagers, or young adults before the age of 30. In this form of diabetes, the pancreas no longer makes insulin. Treatment includes insulin injections and diet control.

  • About 90 percent of people with diabetes have Type 2 diabetes (non-insulin dependent). In Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin. Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle increases the chances of developing Type 2 diabetes. The risk of developing diabetes increase as you get older. However, in recent years, the number of obese children developing Type 2 diabetes has increased dramatically. Treatment includes medication and modifications in weight, diet, and exercise.

  • Five percent of women develop gestational diabetes during the late stages of pregnancy. It usually goes away after the baby is born.

If untreated, diabetes can cause serious health problems and even death. Studies show that controlling blood sugar, along with controlling blood pressure and cholesterol, can greatly reduce the risk for complications.

The Diabetes Treatment Center
People with diabetes from throughout Wisconsin visit the Diabetes Treatment Center at Columbia St. Mary’s for comprehensive inpatient and outpatient treatment. Team members, who specialize in meeting the unique needs of patients with diabetes, work with patients and their physician to design personalized treatment plans. The center also offers classes to help patients manage their disease.

Mark Klosiewski is Program Director for the Diabetes Treatment Center at Columbia St. Mary’s. For more information, call the Center at 414-961-4641.


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