Fewer than half of people with diabetes know that they have it or seek testing by a physician. Type 2 diabetes is the stealthiest type; symptoms can be mild and therefore overlooked for years. Early diagnosis and lifestyle changes are critical in reducing complications and damage caused by this life-long disease.
What is Diabetes?
It is fast becoming known as an ‘affluent cultural epidemic’ in our Western lifestyles of excessive indulgences. With the rise of obesity, rich, fatty diets and sedentary lifestyles of convenience, diabetes is becoming a devastatingly common affliction. In North America it is the sixth leading cause of death and nearly 60,000 new diagnoses are made every year. Once it develops, this disorder has a severe impact on health, quality of life, and life expectancy.
Diabetes is a chronic, incurable disease that occurs when the body does not produce any or enough insulin. Insulin, a hormone produced by cells in the pancreas, converts glucose (sugar) into energy that the body can use. If the body is unable to produce enough insulin, its function is impaired or if the body becomes desensitized to insulin, the glucose from food cannot be used as fuel for the body’s cells. Sugar builds up in the blood stream and is excreted in the urine, instead of being used to keep the body healthy and energized.
Eventually, if untreated and uncontrolled, hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) caused by the excessive amounts of glucose in the blood leads to a variety of deadly complications. These long-term affects include high blood pressure, heart and artery disease, stroke, kidney disease, nerve damage, sexual dysfunction, vision loss, and diabetic skin and foot disorders.
Causes of Diabetes
The exact cause of diabetes is not known, however, certain factors can trigger the onset of the disease: heredity, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, stress, pregnancy and some viruses and medications.
Type 1 diabetes occurs mostly in children, adolescents and young adults. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas no longer produces insulin, making type 1 diabetics dependent on daily insulin injections for their survival. Symptoms of type 1 diabetes are drastic and very evident even in early onset.
Type 2, or adult-onset diabetes, generally occurs later in life after the age of 30 to 40 years. About 90% of diabetics have type 2 diabetes. In recent decades, this type of diabetes is occurring more prevalently and much earlier; in some cases even in children due to poor diet and lifestyle choices.
Asians, people of African descent, Latin people and Aboriginals are more likely to develop the disease than other ethnic groups. Other risk factors include hereditary risks, smoking, a high fat diet and most commonly, obesity.
Gestational diabetes occurs during 2 to 4% of all pregnancies, and normally dissipates after the birth of the child. For the mother, gestational diabetes increases the risk of infection, excessive fatigue and can cause complications during the delivery.