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Medical:  Diabetes - A Global Epidemic

Diabetes - A growing problem
When you hear the word epidemic, you may likely think of diseases in less developed countries far away. An epidemic is defined as a disease that has come to affect a large portion of a given population (3% is a good estimate).

Given this definition, people living in developed countries of the world are not exempt from a growing global epidemic – one that has seen little attention until recently. Diabetes now ranks among the top 10 causes of death in most developed and industrialized societies.

Projections for the disease’s spread are alarming. The World Health Organization (WHO) pegs the number of diabetes patients to reach 240 million people worldwide by the year 2010.

Inability to properly process sugar in the bloodstream
Diabetes is a disease that stems from the lack of insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by the body to process glucose. Glucose is a form of sugar that the cells of the body need for energy. But before a cell can use glucose, insulin is needed to process the sugar into a form the cell can absorb.

Without insulin, the cells do not have the energy needed to run the body properly, making a person weak. Furthermore, since the glucose is not used up it stays in the blood, which is harmful to the body, particularly to the kidneys.

The disease comes in two forms: Type I and Type II. Both types involve insulin and its ability to process sugar in the bloodstream. Too much or too little sugar in the body has adverse effects. Without proper treatment, complications can range from eyesight loss (retinopathy), nerve damage, kidney failure, and in very severe cases, diabetic ketoacidosis (diabetic coma)..

The two types of diabetes differ in cause of contracting the disease, but are equally serious.

Type I diabetes occurs when the immune system attacks the insulin-forming cells in the body, misled into thinking that these cells are harmful. The pancreas therefore fail to produce insulin leading to a heightened level of sugar in the body, which puts stresses the kidneys, leading to further complications.

Most of the patients demonstrate the disease’s symptoms at around 15 years of age, although the disease may have already been contracted years before. It is because of this that experts have interchanged the term Type I diabetes with “juvenile onset diabetes”. However, recently, this practice has been set aside in light of the alarmingly increasing number of young people contracting Type II diabetes.

Type II diabetes (also known as “adult onset diabetes”) is characterized by the body’s failure to process glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream despite the fact that insulin is produced by the pancreas. This could be because not enough insulin is produced or that the body simply does not respond to it. As such, the blood sugar levels rise while putting extreme stress on the pancreas. This form of diabetes accounts for 90 percent of the estimated 300 million cases of the disease worldwide.

The Pancreas and Diabetes
The pancreas is a gland that lies crosswise and behind the stomach. It is where insulin is produced and released into the body. Cells called islets of Langerhans are the primary makers of insulin, and these are what the immune system attacks in a Type I diabetes case.

In the case of Type II diabetes, the pancreas is forced to produce so much insulin to cope with the high levels of sugar in the body. Unfortunately, if high sugar levels are maintained for long periods of time, the undue stress may cause the pancreas to break down.

Most Type I diabetic patients manage the disease by having insulin artificially administered. The most common methods are pills and hypodermic needle syringes. Other delivery methods are being developed as well, such as an oral spray that delivers the patient’s required amount of insulin.

Those with Type II diabetes may not need artificial insulin administration. A different medication can be coupled with a controlled diet and exercise. As there is a proven correlation between Type II diabetes and obesity, doctors and health experts recommend obese individuals to undergo a regimented weight loss and management program to combat the disease. However, in advanced cases of Type II diabetes, artificial insulin administration could be prescribed.

For Type I diabetes, no real cure exists, except for a pancreatic transplant. Since the patient’s own pancreas has been compromised by the diseases, new pancreas is needed to restore the body’s own ability to produce insulin.

There already have been reported and successful cases of pancreatic transplants, but the risks are high. The chances are great that the body’s immune system may reject the new part leading to very serious and fatal complications. A kidney transplant may be necessary as well, adding to possible complications.

Diabetes and Obesity
There is a huge correlation between Type II diabetes and obesity. Most obese individuals lead a sedentary lifestyle, while consuming food high in carbohydrates, sugars and fat. These poor eating habits coupled with the lack / absence of physical activity increases the volume of sugar in the bloodstream. The pancreas cannot produce enough insulin to meet the demands of processing so much sugar and therefore diabetes sets in.

If left unchecked, the complications arising from diabetes are many and adverse.

  • Retinopathy is the degeneration of the retina of the eye, leading to loss of sight.
  • Kidney diseases / failure sets in when the organ finally breaks down due to the excessive stress from filtering too much sugar in the blood.
  • Nervous system disorders are experienced by around half of diabetes sufferers. Symptoms such as impaired sensation in the limbs, carpal tunnel syndrome, and even impotence have been recorded among diabetics. When sensation is impaired in the limbs, infection from injuries may progress without being noticed, leading to no other resort but amputation.
  • Diabetic coma (diabetic ketoacidosis) occurs when a patient becomes severely dehydrated and metabolism is greatly imbalanced. Since the cells in the body are starved of energy, the entire body shuts down leading to a coma.

These complications, however, pale in comparison to the number of lives that are lost every year due to diabetes. As of now, the number of deaths related to the disease is placed at around 4 million annually.

Food choices
Start with the selection of the right food and its intake in the proper amounts. Consultation with a medical professional will inform you on what is right for your body type.

Observe the habit of physical exercises throughout the day. A regimented workout schedule may not be necessary. Walking and doing manual household chores may be sufficient. Again, consult with your doctor to know what is appropriate for you.

If you are diabetic, or at risk of it, or if you know someone who is, take the time to share this information and learn more about it. If the proper information and motivation is shared enough, there still may be a chance to reverse the tide of this global epidemic.

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Taking a stand against diabetes

Do you feel thirsty all the time? Do you frequently urinate? Do you have sores or wounds in your body that do not heal easily? Do you get tired easily? If you answered yes to most of these questions, then you might consider checking up with your doctor.

Early detection and management
If you already have diabetes, then early detection can help you manage the disease. If you do not have diabetes, then it is time to eat and live right to prevent the disease from affecting you.

Diabetes occurs when there is too much sugar or glucose in the bloodstream. Having this condition for a long period can lead to complications that may affect the body's important organs like the heart, eyes, and kidneys.

Type 1 Diabetes affects both adults and children. The body's immune system harms the cells making insulin, resulting to low insulin level. The condition of having a high sugar level with low insulin level can cause serious health problems.

Type 2 Diabetes can be managed with proper exercise and good eating habits. Maintaining an ideal weight is advisable because too much body fat and inactivity makes it harder for the body to use insulin. Under this type, the body is still able to make insulin but it cannot be used efficiently by the body.

Gestational Diabetes is found among pregnant women. This disease can make pregnancy more difficult than it already is. Those who are diagnosed with this type of Diabetes are at the high risk sector, of getting the second type. In normal pregnant women, their pancreas produces enough insulin that keeps the body's sugar level. However there are women whose pancreas are not able to produce enough insulin, resulting to gestational diabetes. Women with gestational diabetes need extra care, requiring a health diet and regular check ups. However, gestational diabetes usually disappears after giving birth and the baby is born without the disease. Among women who are at risk of gestational diabetes are those who are over 30 years old, have big babies during previous pregnancies, family history of diabetes and of course, the weight factor.

Diabetes prevention
Weight is an important factor in the control and management of diabetes, with those on the heavy side at a higher risk of getting diabetes. Keeping one's body fit and healthy is a sure way of avoiding diabetes and other diseases. This can be done by avoiding bad habits like smoking. One can also try to be m ore active by exercising regularly. Monitoring one's blood pressure is also important.

The good news is, one can avoid and prevent diabetes by resorting to a healthy lifestyle. However, there are factors that cannot be controlled and which can lead to getting diabetes. One's heredity is an important factor in being a candidate for diabetes. And no matter how one keeps a healthy lifestyle, people who are 40 years old and above are at risk of getting Type 2 Diabetes. A person who exhibits any of the symptoms of the disease or who belong to the high-risk group like having family members who have diabetes, should have himself examined by a doctor as soon as possible.

Testing for diabetes
Among the tests to assess a person's risks of getting diabetes are the glucose test, urine test, fasting plasma glucose test which measures the level of glucose in a person's blood after fasting for 12 to 14 hours, the oral glucose tolerance test which is also performed after fasting for three hours and the random plasma glucose test which can be done at any time.

The number of persons getting the disease has been increasing in the past years, due to poor eating habits, increasing inactivity and other factors that could have been prevented. Having yourself checked for diabetes can help you manage the disease.

Preventing diabetes by eating right

Diabetes has become so widespread that the United States spends as much as $100 billion a year for the healthcare of Americans with diabetes. Millions of people all over the world have diabetes. The sad thing is most of them do not know they have it until it is too late.

Diabetes is a devastating disease which can damage the vital organs of the body including the kidneys, heart and the eyes. Diabetes may not kill people as a general rule, but it makes them lose their eyesight, and leads them to kidney and heart problems, and later on, death.

People with diabetes can survive the diseases provided they practice proper health care. Those who do not have the disease, but are in danger of getting the disease due to heredity, can avoid getting the Big D through proper nutrition.

Improper diet is leading cause
Aside from heredity, the top cause of diabetes is improper diet. Modern man's propensity for leading hectic lives has led them into eating the wrong kinds of food. We eat too much canned goods and processed foods, conditioning us to have a preference for refined food, from sugar to grains.

But there are health-friendly foods that are available in the market. It's just a matter of changing our choice of food, like preferring whole grains over refined grains such as brown rice, whole wheat bread and the likes. Eat more fruits and vegetables and less meat, sweet and oily food. It also helps to read the labels of processed food, to determine the amount of one's carbohydrate intakes.

If you can't resist oily food, then avoid going to fast food joints because seeing french-fries hungry people will just make your saliva drop and will make you forget you diet.

So how does one know that he already has diabetes? The common symptoms are frequent urination, fatigue and being thirsty all the time. Diabetes simply means too much glucose in your bloodstream. Too much glucose in the body requires more water, thus making you feel thirsty most of the time. With thirst comes an increased water intake, making urination frequent.

Other symptoms of diabetes includes an increase or decrease in weight, blurred vision, sores or wounds that are slow to heal and sometimes lead to infections and tender gums.

Lose weight!
Obesity makes one at a greater risk of getting diabetes so it is also important to watch your weight. Those who have excess fat in the belly are more prone to being health risks. Weight gain or about 10 to 20 pounds, no matter how moderate, can also make one a candidate for diabetes.

Aside from eating the right food and watching one's weight, it is also good to increase one's physical activity. Gardening, although a mild physical activity, can help you relax and lose weight as well.

NEXT: Diabetes Symptoms

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