Diabetes is prevalent in the United States. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) states that roughly eight percent of the population, or close to 24 million Americans, suffer from the disease. There are severel different types of diabetes, with type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes—diabetes during pregnancy—being the most common. Type 2 is the most prevalent, accounting for nearly 90 percent of the cases, and type 1 diabetes occurs in roughly 5 percent of the cases or one in every 400 to 600 children and adolescents.
Also known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, type 1 diabetes is a genetic condition that usually presents itself in children through the age of adolescence. There is no cure, but treatment is available and symptoms are manageable.
What It Does
Type 1 diabetes is a condition that develops when your pancreas stops secreting the hormone insulin. Insulin is critical to converting glucose or sugar in your blood into usable energy. The beta cells in the pancreas of a person suffering from the disease are destroyed and unable to function. Patients must mimic what the pancreas would normally do by taking daily injections of insulin or using an insulin pump.
Researchers have not identified the exact cause of type 1 diabetes, but they believe that genetics plays a role along with some type of viral or environmental trigger.
According to the ADA, in approximately 72,507 death certificates, diabetes was listed as the underlying cause of death. But experts feel it’s under-reported. No matter the argument, death among people with diabetes is about twice that of people of a similar age without the disease.
The carbohydrates that you consume become glucose in the body. Insulin works with the glucose in your bloodstream to provide food for the brain and fuel for your cells and organs. If not enough insulin is secreted, blood glucose levels can rise above normal levels, causing a variety of health complications over the long term.
The most common health issues from type 1 diabetes are:
- Circulatory problems—heart disease and stroke
- Nephropathy—kidney damage
- Neuropathy—nerve damage and infections
- Retinopathy—eye problems such as glaucoma, macular degeneration and blindness
Other medical risks include damage to the feet, including leg, toe or whole foot amputation, bacterial disease and infections on the skin or in the mouth, hearing loss, osteoporosis and pregnancy complication.
Leading Causes of Death
What is the leading cause of death in people with type 1 diabetes? Let's examine some diabetes-realted causes:
Heart disease and stroke: Uncontrolled blood glucose levels cause the blood vessels to get narrower and less elastic than they should be; heart attacks, stroke or blood-clotting illness may occur as a result and cause death.
High blood pressure: High cholesterol coupled with high blood pressure means circulatory disease, with effects that can be serious and life threatening.
Kidney disease: High blood glucose levels can cause kidney damage and possible kidney failure, creating a need for dialysis, a mechanical way to do what the kidneys do normally; if not treated, death can occur.
Preventing Diabetes Complications
Although type 1 diabetes is not curable, it can be managed by monitoring your blood glucose levels carefully and consistently, keeping up with your insulin injections, following a heart-healthy diet and adding moderate physical activity into your daily routine.
A medical support system is critical to type 1 diabetics, and may include:
• Endocrinologist, specializes in the hormone-producing glands
• Cardiologist, manages high-blood pressures, cholesterol and heart disease
• Dietitian or nutritionist, provides education on the proper diet and nutrition to manage the disease
• Podiatrist, looks at blisters, wounds, ulcers and other foot problems
• Neurologist is a nerve specialist
• Eye doctor such as an optometrist, or ophthalmologist for eye concerns
• Dentist to prevent oral infections
Working together, diabetics and their support network can reduce the occurrence of these and other diabetes complications by controlling the levels of blood glucose, blood pressure and blood lipids, and by receiving other preventive care practices in a timely manner.
References & Resources
• Diabetes.org for statistics: https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/diabetes-statistics/
• Diabetes Fact Sheet 2007 (most recent): https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pubs/pdf/ndfs_2007.pdf
• Agency for Health Care Research and Quality https://ww/ahrq.gov/browse/diabetes.htm
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/AAG/ddt.htm
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