American Diabetes Association Complete Guide to Diabetes: The Ultimate Home Reference from the Diabetes Experts


Diabetes Facts

• What Is Diabetes?

• Who Has Diabetes?

• Early History of Diabetes

When you were first diagnosed with diabetes, your doctor probably sent you home with a lot of information. That’s a great place to start. Even if you’ve been living with diabetes for years, you may still have very basic questions about what diabetes is. Or who else has diabetes.

This chapter will work to answer some of your initial questions, helping you brush up on the facts about diabetes. In the following chapters we’ll discuss more about how diabetes works and, most importantly, how it affects you.

What Is Diabetes?

In a nutshell, diabetes is a disorder in which the body does not make or correctly use insulin. But what is insulin? Insulin is a hormone. Your body needs insulin to help turn the food you eat into the energy and energy reserves that your body needs to function properly. When your insulin is out of balance, your whole body is out of balance.

Sounds simple enough, right? Well, not everyone with diabetes has the same type of problem using insulin. Some people don’t make any insulin at all; other people make too little insulin or don’t use that insulin efficiently.

This is why diabetes is broken down into different types, with the most common forms being type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Some women also get diabetes when they become pregnant; this is called gestational diabetes. Most cases of diabetes fall within these three types, which will be explained in more detail in chapters 34, and 5.

There are some other types of diabetes, which can be caused by genetic defects, diseases such as cystic fibrosis, organ transplantation, or AIDS treatment. Still other people don’t fit neatly into the categories of type 1 or type 2 diabetes. In fact, there are more than ten different forms of diabetes!

Who Has Diabetes?

Although you may feel like you’re the only one dealing with diabetes—you’re definitely not alone. Millions of Americans and hundreds of millions of people worldwide have diabetes. In the United States, eight out of every 100 people aged 20 years or older have diabetes. That works out to nearly 26 million adults and children with diabetes, according to recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So, it’s very likely that you know someone else with diabetes. It could be someone at your school or in your yoga class or in your apartment building. Diabetes affects children and adults, people who are fit or out-of-shape, and people of all races and ethnicities.

However, not everyone with diabetes is wearing a big neon sign screaming: “I have diabetes too!” Each person with diabetes has different symptoms and treatments. The people you know with diabetes are probably managing it in personal and discreet ways.

Famous People with Diabetes

However, some people are quite outspoken about their diabetes—celebrities. There are hundreds of famous people with diabetes, many juggling the demands of entertainment, sports, or politics while keeping on top of a serious disorder.

Famous People with Diabetes

• Halle Berry, actress

• Nicole Johnson, Miss America 1999

• Jay Cutler, NFL quarterback

• Aretha Franklin, singer

• Larry King, talk show host

• Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas

• Nick Jonas, singer

• Gary Hall, Jr., Olympic gold medalist swimmer

• Chris Matthews, news anchor

• Billie Jean King, tennis player

• Anne Rice, author

• Neil Young, singer

• Elizabeth Taylor, actress

• B.B. King, musician

• Bret Michaels, singer

It may sound corny, but this list makes you realize how much you can accomplish with diabetes. It’s nice to know that diabetes won’t keep you from winning a gold medal in the Olympics like Gary Hall or headlining an ’80s glam rock band like Bret Michaels.

Undiagnosed Diabetes

Nearly 26 million people have diabetes in the United States. Yet, there are only 18.8 million diagnosed cases of diabetes. That means that nearly one-quarter of the people with diabetes do not even know they have diabetes. How could all these people go undiagnosed? Unlike many diseases, diabetes doesn’t always have obvious symptoms in the beginning.

Over 7 million people have diabetes but don’t know it. They are walking around with signs and perhaps mild symptoms of diabetes, but they have not been to a health care provider for the proper tests and diagnosis because few realize that anything is wrong.

Most undiagnosed people have type 2 diabetes. In contrast, few cases of type 1 diabetes go undetected for long. As you’ll see in later chapters, the symptoms of type 1 diabetes are so severe that the person goes to a doctor for help.

Rise in Diabetes

You may have heard that more and more people are getting diabetes. Unfortunately, this is absolutely true. The number of people with diabetes in the United States increased by 3 million over two years, according to recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, children are increasingly getting type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Certain ethnic groups are also seeing an increase in diabetes. Native Americans have the highest rate of diabetes at 16.1%, followed by African Americans at 12.6% and Hispanics at 11.8%. In contrast, 8.4% of Asian Americans and 7.1% of whites have diabetes in the United States.

Diabetes More Common in Elderly People

Older people are still affected most by diabetes. For example, 26.9% of people aged 65 years and older have diabetes, as opposed to 11.3% of people aged 20 years and older.

A Global Epidemic

The rise in diabetes is happening beyond our borders. In 2010, the International Diabetes Federation estimated that 285 million people worldwide have diabetes and more than 430 million people will have diabetes by 2030. Diabetes deaths are likely to double between 2005 and 2030, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). As you may expect, the United States has some of the highest rates of diabetes. But it’s still not at the top of the list.

Five Countries with the Highest Rates of Diabetes in 2000

• India

• China

• United States

• Indonesia

• Japan

The WHO and other groups, such as the International Diabetes Federation, are working to raise awareness and help prevent and control diabetes worldwide. For example, the International Diabetes Federation’s Life for a Child Program helps supply children with diabetes with insulin and other equipment throughout the world. The Federation also supplies grants to fund research on diabetes prevention and treatment.

World Diabetes Day

The United Nations passed a Diabetes Resolution in 2006 declaring November 14th as World Diabetes Day and encouraging member states to develop policies to prevent and treat diabetes.

Early History of Diabetes

As much as diabetes is widespread, it is also age old. Diabetes is one of the oldest known diseases in the world. In fact, people wrote down early descriptions of the disorder before they really understood what it was. References to diabetes can be found in some of the oldest surviving medical writings in the world.

Early References to Diabetes

• An early Egyptian medical text written around 1550 BCE describes a condition of “passing too much urine.”

• The Greek physician Aretaeus, who lived in the second century CE, gave diabetes its name from a Greek word meaning “siphon” or “pass through.” Aretaeus observed that his patients’ bodies appeared to “melt down” into urine.

• People observed early on that the urine from people with diabetes was very sweet. In fact, one way to diagnose diabetes was to pour urine near an anthill. If the ants were attracted to the urine, it meant that the urine contained sugar.

• By the 18th century, physicians added the Latin term mellitus (honey-sweet) to diabetes, which describes its sugary taste.

Up Next

In the next few chapters, you’ll find out a lot more about the science of diabetes. We’ve come a long way from pouring urine on anthills! One of the most important scientific discoveries in diabetes was glucose. Chapter 2 gets down to the basics of glucose and its role in diabetes.



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