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Published: November, 2004; Vol 1, Num 6

November is National Diabetes Month:

Diabetes Plagues Millions in US, Canada

By Peggy Bolz

“Millions of Americans and Canadians have diabetes, and many are at-risk for developing it,” says LHSFNA Associate Health Promotion Director Angela Brennan. “But a good diet and daily exercise will reduce risk and help manage the disease.”

Currently, 18.2 million (6.3%) of Americans have diabetes, but only 13 million have actually been diagnosed with type 1, type 2 or gestational diabetes. The other 5.2 million are unaware that they have the disease. It is estimated that 8.9 percent of the population will have diabetes by 2025. In Canada, two million (6.1%) currently have diabetes.

But it gets worse. 41 million Americans between the ages of 40 and 74 have pre-diabetes, a condition that occurs when blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to constitute diabetes. Before people develop type 2 diabetes, they almost always have pre-diabetes. People with pre-diabetes are at a 50 percent higher risk for heart disease or stroke.

Risk Factors

You are at a higher risk for diabetes and pre-diabetes if you have any of the following:

  • You’re older than 45 years of age
  • You have excess body weight – especially around the waist
  • Low activity level
  • Family history of diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood levels of triglycerides
  • HDL cholesterol of less than 35
  • You gave birth to a baby that weighed more than 9 pounds or had gestational diabetes while pregnant
  • You are African-American, Latino, Native American, Asian American or Pacific Islander.

When to Test

Often, pre-diabetes has no symptoms. In fact, many people have diabetes but do not know because the symptoms develop gradually. Symptoms of diabetes include unusual thirst, blurred vision, a frequent desire to urinate or a feeling of being tired most of the time for no apparent reason.

If you are overweight and age 45 or older, you should be checked for pre-diabetes during your routine medical visit. If you are younger than 45 but have some of the risk factors listed above, you should ask your doctor about testing.

Your doctor can use either of two tests to determine if you have pre-diabetes. One is the fasting plasma glucose test (FPG) – commonly called a fasting blood sugar test. The other is the oral glucose tolerance test (OBTT). If your blood sugar is 100 to 125 mg/dl after the FPG or 140 to 199 after the OBTT, you will be diagnosed with pre-diabetes.

Turning Back the Clock

The good news, if you have pre-diabetes, is you can do something about it. By reducing your weight five to ten percent and participating in moderate physical activity for 30 minutes a day, you may prevent or delay the development of type 2 diabetes by 58 percent. Early intervention can also return elevated blood sugar levels to the normal range.

For more information go to the American Diabetes Association or the Canadian Diabetes Association.