Nearly 10 percent of people in the United States have diabetes and this number continues to jump up every year.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29 million people in the United States, or about 1 in every 10, have diabetes.
The majority of diabetes sufferers in the U.S. have Type 2 diabetes, a condition where your body doesn’t use insulin properly in order to regulate your blood sugar levels.
The rise of Type 2 diabetes is often referred to as a health crisis, as diabetes sufferers are also prone to suffering from other serious conditions, such as a heart disease and nerve damage, which can lead to amputations.
So how can you protect yourself against this disease? insuranceQuotes.com spoke to Dr. Keith Campbell, professor emeritus at Washington State University, who is an active diabetes educator and specializes in research of chronic diseases such as diabetes. He discusses ways you can guard against the disease – and how you can cope if you are diagnosed with diabetes.
Q. What are some of the warning signs or symptoms of diabetes?
A. There are several types of diabetes. The one that affects less than 5 percent of people is Type 1, or insulin-dependent diabetes. It used to be called juvenile onset diabetes because it primarily occurred in children, but it can occur at any time. (Those who have Type 1 diabetes) stop making insulin and have to take insulin in order to stay alive.
The other major type is an epidemic, and 1 in 3 people born today will develop what is called Type 2 diabetes. These people make up about 95 percent of all diabetes sufferers, and a relatively high percentage of them are overweight.
What both types of diabetes have in common is elevated blood sugar levels.
In Type 1 patients, the symptoms come on relatively quickly and include:
- Lethargy and tiredness.
- Feeling extremely thirsty.
- Dry skin.
- Breathing ketones (an organic compound that is produced if you don't have enough insulin to help your body use sugar for energy), which can smell fruity or juicy.
In Type 2 patients, symptoms include:
- Weight gain.
- Feeling thirsty.
- Urinating more.
- Increased infections.
- Feeling tired after eating, caused by elevated blood sugar levels.
These symptoms can be relatively mild in Type 2 patients, so people can go several years not knowing they have diabetes.
Q. If you're at risk for Type 2 diabetes, what should you do?
A. If you're at risk for Type 2 diabetes, get tested periodically -- at least once a year. Certain ethnicities have a much higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Native American, African American, Hispanic, and Pacific Islander adults have a greater chance of getting the disease than Caucasian adults.
Risk factors include:
- High blood pressure.
- Obesity (more than 80 percent of people with Type 2 diabetes are overweight).
- High blood lipids.
- High cholesterol levels.
- Family history of diabetes.
- Unhealthy eating and exercising habits.
Q. Why is diabetes such a huge problem among American children and adults?
A. The actual percentage of children with Type 2 diabetes is relatively low, but (diabetes) awareness has just exploded in the past 15 years.
However, the reason why Type 2 is such a huge problem among Americans is that we're overeating and underexercising, which makes us less sensitive to the effects of insulin.
Worldwide, we're going to have more than 550 million people with Type 2 diabetes by the year 2030. The problems include:
- Stress (higher cortisol levels cause weight gain).
Q. Can you cure yourself of diabetes with proper exercise and diet?
A. There isn't really a cure. You can reduce your blood sugar levels through exercise and diet and in the early stages of Type 2 diabetes. Doctors highly recommend lifestyle changes as a big part of the treatment.
But it's a progressive disease, so eventually everyone on that path to Type 2 diabetes is going to need medications to manage it. The only cure for many overweight Type 2 diabetes sufferers is stomach bypass surgery.
The surgeon puts a sleeve in your gut so your food doesn't get absorbed and just goes directly into the intestine and bypasses the stomach. People lose weight quite rapidly post-surgery, and their blood sugar levels aren't elevated anymore.
Q. Many people don't realize diabetes is also linked to other serious health conditions, such as heart disease. Why do you think this is?
A. It's interesting because everyone has an uncle, cousin or grandparent who has diabetes, and they've had their leg amputated or they have ulcers on their feet.
Other related health conditions include eye problems, glaucoma, cataracts and retinopathy, which is the leading cause of blindness in people under the age of 75. It can damage the small blood vessels and the kidney. And diabetes can affect your blood pressure and cause heart problems.
Q. What can you do to help family members avoid becoming victims of diabetes?
A. People who are at higher risk need to get to a doctor and get tested to see if they're at risk or if they actually have diabetes.
About one-fourth of people with Type 2 diabetes don't know they have it, and they may be causing damage to their blood vessels, heart, kidneys, eyes, nerves and extremities without even realizing it because there aren't any major symptoms.
The main thing anyone at risk can do is get checked for diabetes. And if you have diabetes, be educated about it.
Q. Can a diabetic be charged more for health insurance, or denied coverage?
A. One of the positive things about Obamacare is that you can't be denied health insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions such as diabetes. However, people with diabetes need to look at their insurance benefits when purchasing a plan to see the kind of care they'll get for the premiums that they're paying.
Q. What changes or improvements would you like to see for diabetes insurance coverage and treatment?
A. If we could get insurance companies to all agree that (high-risk) people will be better screened, that would be a major triumph.
And then once they get diagnosed with diabetes, administer a treatment protocol that keeps their blood glucose, blood pressure and blood lipid levels under control.
Q. What are some key objectives diabetics should consider when shopping for insurance? (For example, coverage amounts and specialists.)
A. Part of it is becoming a better-informed patient and then evaluating the insurance company (and what benefits it provides). People with diabetes should invest in diabetes education.
Get a thorough training in diabetes and diabetes treatment, and repeat the training once a year to get remotivated and re-educated and make sure you're taking good care of yourself.