Diabetes mellitus is a chronic disease that affects the lives of nearly 24 million people in the United States, nearly 6 million of whom are unaware that they even have the disease. In 2007 alone, 1.6 million new cases of diabetes were diagnosed in people aged 20 years or older. The disease is marked by the inability to manufacture or properly use insulin and impairs the body's ability to convert sugars, starches and other foods into energy. The long-term effects of elevated blood sugar (hyperglycemia) are damage to the eyes, heart, feet, kidneys, nerves and blood vessels.
Symptoms of hyperglycemia may include frequent urination, excessive thirst, extreme hunger, unexplained weight loss, tingling or numbness of the feet or hands, blurred vision, fatigue, slow-to-heal wounds and susceptibility to certain infections. People who have any of these symptoms and have not been tested for diabetes are putting themselves at considerable risk and should see a physician without delay.
Part of keeping your diabetes in control is testing your blood sugar often. Ask your doctor how often you should test and what your blood sugar levels should be. Testing your blood and then treating high blood sugar early will help you to prevent complications.
The socioeconomic costs of diabetes are enormous. In 2007, the total annual economic cost of diabetes was estimated at $174 billion -- about $116 billion of which are direct costs from the disease with $58 billion indirectly related. Diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death by disease in the United States, and individuals with diabetes are two to four times as likely to experience heart disease and stroke.
The growth of the disease worldwide is especially alarming. The World Health Organization (WHO) expects the number of new diabetes cases to double in the next 25 years from 135 million to nearly 300 million. Much of this growth will occur in developing countries where aging, unhealthy diets, obesity, and sedentary lifestyles will contribute to the onset of the disease.
According to a recent survey, about 86,000 lower limbs are amputated annually due to complications from diabetes. Diabetes is the leading cause of end-stage kidney disease, accounting for about 44 percent of new cases. Diabetes is also the leading cause of new cases of blindness among adults aged 20 to 74.
While there is no cure for diabetes, there is hope. With a proper diet, exercise, medical care and careful management at home, a person with diabetes can keep the most serious of the consequences at bay and enjoy a long, full life.