A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

The diabetes epidemic: How you can fight back

Man on bicycle - Fighting the diabetes epidemic

Exercise is a crucial element of managing diabetes.

A figure released by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) estimated the total cost of diagnosed diabetes in America to be $245 billion for 2012 alone. About 70 percent of that expense came from direct medical costs, such as inpatient care, medications and office visits, while the remainder resulted from lost productivity. The ADA also reported that “$1 in $5 health care dollars is spent caring for people with diabetes.”

Type 2 Diabetes is absolutely an epidemic,” said Dr. Kent Ray, a Marshfield Clinic endocrinologist. “There are so many medical problems that come along with diabetes, and it’s expensive to treat.”

Complications from diabetes include cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, kidney disease, poor circulation, stroke and limb amputations. Aside from the massive impact on our economy and health care system, diabetes can have a devastating effect on individuals who suffer from the disease.

Type 1 vs. type 2 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas no longer produces insulin. Insulin allows the body’s cells to use glucose as energy. Type 1 diabetes usually begins in childhood or early adulthood. It is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system destroys insulin-making cells. It is the most common chronic disease in childhood.

Type 2 diabetes is much more common. More than 90 percent of diabetes cases are type 2, Ray said. With type 2 diabetes, your body makes insulin but does not use it effectively.

Why people get diabetes

Genetics and environmental factors play a role in development of type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Lifestyle factors play a much larger role in development of type 2 diabetes.

Several risk factors for getting type 2 diabetes include being over age 45, obesity, ethnicity, family history of diabetes and an inactive lifestyle.

Diabetes treatment

People with type 1 diabetes take insulin, either via injection or an insulin pump. No lifestyle modifications can cure type 1 diabetes, though proper diet and exercise are important. Type 2 diabetes can be cured with the right lifestyle changes.

“I can help resolve type 2 diabetes for most patients who have been diagnosed in the past 10 years.” Ray said. “But they have to adjust to a low-calorie, low-carbohydrate diet and exercise daily.”

Ray encourages patients with diabetes to eat more vegetables and lean protein.

“The greatest asset patients have is their own knowledge,” Ray said.

Intense exercise is critical to managing diabetes. For a young person, Ray suggests exercising 30 minutes daily, six days per week and eventually working up to an hour of exercise, six days a week.

While type 2 diabetes can be cured, people who have had it are at high risk for it to return and must stick to a strict diet and exercise regimen.

Pay attention to these symptoms

Warning signs for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes include intense thirst, frequent urination, nausea, abdominal pain, fatigue, blurry vision and possible weight loss.

The most common way to confirm diabetes is to test fasting blood sugar, Ray said.

If you’re concerned about your risk for diabetes, talk to your provider.

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