According to the International Diabetes Federation, approximately 30 million people worldwide had diabetes in 1985; the global prevalence of the disease will rise to 380 million by 2030. Diabetes accounts for nearly 4 million deaths each year. That means nearly 11,000 people die every day (1 every 10 seconds) of diabetes or its complications. These statistics represent conservative estimates because up to half of the people who have the condition don’t even know that they are affected.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes mellitus includes several different conditions that cause high blood sugar or hyperglycemia. Blood sugar is a measure of the concentration of glucose in your bloodstream. When you eat carbohydrates (starch and sugar), they break down during digestion into glucose which enters your blood. When blood sugar rises too high, a hormone called insulin is released by your pancreas to lower the level of glucose.
In people with Type I diabetes, the insulin-producing cells don’t work properly, so little or no insulin is made by the pancreas. The onset of Type I diabetes usually occurs during childhood, although it can also strike adults. Before the development of an effective treatment in 1922, people with Type I diabetes died soon after diagnosis. Now they can manage their blood sugar through insulin injections. The cause of Type I is unknown, and no cure currently exists.
People with Type II diabetes can produce insulin but there is a progressive change in how it is used by the cells in the body, leading to insulin resistance. In the past, Type II diabetes mainly was a condition found in elderly people. Now it increasingly is affecting young people, including children. The major risk factor for developing Type II diabetes is being overweight.
Complications of Diabetes
Diabetes, particularly Type I, can cause life-threatening conditions such as diabetic ketoacidosis which may lead to coma and sudden death. However, most diabetics die slowly from one of many diseases that develop because of chronic high blood sugar. Even before they die, diabetics suffer from a number of debilitating conditions. According to Richard K. Bernstein, M.D., author of The Diabetes Solution, the complications of diabetes are largely avoidable and may be reversed by strict control of blood sugars through medication and diet.
The following statistics from the International Diabetes Federation highlight the added health burden caused by diabetes:
A person with diabetes will die an average of 5 to 10 years sooner than a person without diabetes.
Approximately 73% of adult diabetics have high blood pressure.
Adults with diabetes are 2 to 4 times more likely than non-diabetics to die from heart disease, and 2.8 times more likely to die from a stroke. Together, heart disease and stroke kill about 65% of diabetics.
Diabetes is the leading cause of renal failure. Up to 20% of diabetics die from kidney disease. One-third requires dialysis.
Between 60% and 70% of diabetics suffer from nerve damage causing pain or loss of sensation in the feet and hands and other symptoms. Severe nerve damage can result in amputations of the lower limbs; amputations are 10 times more common amongst diabetics than non-diabetics.
Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in adults. Diabetics are 20 times more likely to lose their vision than non-diabetics.
Diabetes increases the risk of severe gum disease.
Poorly-controlled blood sugar early during pregnancy can cause major birth defects and miscarriages.
High blood sugar in the second and third trimesters can cause babies to grow dangerously large.
Diabetes increases the risk of sexual dysfunction in both women and men.
Diabetics are more susceptible to and more likely to die from many other illnesses such as pneumonia or influenza.
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