The number of people with diabetes is escalating rapidly. Education and prevention are key to stemming the tide of this chronic disease.
It’s World Diabetes Day. But as a person who lives with the condition, it’s something I think about every day. I have to, because if I don’t manage my health even the many significant advances in care and treatment can’t help me.
The International Diabetes Federation estimates that 382 million people worldwide have diabetes — a number expected to rise to 592 million by 2035. The majority of people, including me, have type 2 diabetes. That means our bodies don’t produce enough insulin or the insulin can’t be properly processed. For people with type 1 diabetes, their bodies don’t produce any insulin at all. When left uncontrolled, diabetes causes high blood sugar levels that can eventually lead to complications such as blindness, kidney disease and heart disease.
Fortunately, good diabetes management can help reduce the risk of complications. It might mean medication, or simply an improvement in diet and exercise. The problem isn’t just that too many people don’t manage their diabetes. Millions more have undiagnosed diabetes, or are headed in that direction, and don’t even know it. In the U.S. alone, more than 18 million people live with diabetes, while another 7 million are undiagnosed. A staggering 79 million have a condition called pre-diabetes, which means they could develop full-blown diabetes if they don’t take preventive measures, says the American Diabetes Association.
Many cases of type 2 diabetes can be prevented with modest lifestyle changes: maintaining a healthy weight, eating the right diet and getting regular exercise. A family history is a risk factor, so if you aren’t leading a healthy lifestyle or think you’re at risk, a simple blood test can give you answers.
I wrote about my experience living with diabetes at the TEDMED blog, and you can read it here.
You can also join in a TEDMED Great Challenges live online panel discussion at 2 pm ET on November 14, to hear experts discuss on-the-ground innovation in chronic disease management, with a spotlight on diabetes. Yours truly will be moderating the discussion.
One last thing: Getting screened and, if necessary, treated for diabetes is easier than ever, thanks to provisions under the Affordable Care Act that provide everyone with essential benefits including annual check-ups, lab tests and chronic disease management. What’s more, people with pre-existing conditions like diabetes can no longer be penalized for it when they buy insurance. On this World Diabetes Day, that’s something to celebrate.
[Image courtesy of the International Diabetes Federation.]