AREA -- November is National Diabetes Awareness Month.
Oregon County Health Department Director Sheila Russell said nearly 415,000 adults in Missouri, nine percent of the population ages 18 or older have been diagnosed with diabetes. "About one quarter of all people with the disease are unaware of their condition. That means thousands of Missourians, some even in Oregon County, of all ages are not protecting themselves from the dangers of diabetes," Russell said.
Diabetes is a life-threatening illness that can lead to many serious conditions including kidney failure, blindness, amputations, cardiovascular disease and death due to flu and pneumonia complications. "Because diabetes is increasing, it is more important than ever to learn about the disease and how to control it," Russell said.
Missouri has seen a 19 percent increase in the disease since 2000, based on estimates from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. The growth in the diabetes rate falls in line with increases in obesity rates and the fact that the overall population is becoming older as large numbers of baby boomers are entering older age brackets.
Some people with diabetes will not experience any symptoms while others will have one or more of the following:
* Frequent urination.
* Excessive thirst.
* Unexplained weight loss.
* Extreme hunger.
* Sudden vision changes.
* Tingling or numbness in hands or feet.
* Feeling tired much of the time.
* Very dry skin.
* Sores that are slow to heal.
* More infections.
One local woman, Rose Pierce, developed gestational diabetes when she was pregnant with her youngest son at age 40. "My main symptom was a total lack of energy. While I was pregnant my diabetes was controlled mostly with diet. Also, most pregnant women who have diabetes have larger than average babies. My son weighed nearly 10 pounds," Pierce said.
Three years later she found out she had the onset of adult diabetes.
Diabetes runs in her family. Her maternal grandfather and her father died as a result of complications due to diabetes. Her mother also found out when she was in her late 70s she had diabetes. "There are eight children in our family and three of us have diabetes," Pierce said.
Pierce said she takes oral medications and a shot once a day in the evening. "The oral medication helps make the insulin shot do its job," she said.
"There can be a lot of complications with this disease if you don't take your medication correctly. If your blood sugar goes too high you can go into diabetic shock. My problem is usually just the opposite, my sugar is too low. This is also bad; you can go into a coma and even die. Diabetes affects a lot of the body's organs," she said.
She takes a glucose meter check every day, usually when she first gets up before she eats or drinks anything and then again after she eats, "I have found that a low carb diet works best in controlling my diabetes," she said.
"I have to be really careful about waiting too long to eat. If I do wait too long, sometimes I get real shaky and feel like I'm going to pass out," she said.
"My diabetes is pretty well under control. I've lived with it for 21 years. One of my brothers is having trouble with his. I take 18 units of insulin once a day and he takes 40 units twice a day and is still having problems," Pierce said.
Diabetes is a chronic disease of the endocrine system that results in high blood glucose levels. There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, formerly known as insulin dependent or juvenile onset diabetes; type 2, formerly known as non-insulin dependent or adult onset diabetes; and gestational diabetes, or type 3, which develops in up to four percent of all pregnant women and increases the risk of later developing type 2 diabetes. "There are no known methods to prevent type 1 diabetes. Most people with type 2, which can be prevented and delayed with lifestyle changes, including eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and participating in daily physical exercise," Russell said. Because studies show a dramatic link between diabetes and heart disease, avoiding tobacco use and taking medications as prescribed are also important for controlling blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol.
"People with diabetes should get tested two to four times a year. The test measures a person's average blood glucose level during a 90-day period. A physician will determine the frequency of this test based on how well a person controls their diabetes. Individuals with diabetes should also get a flu shot, a comprehensive foot exam and a dilated eye exam every year. In addition, they should get at least one pneumococcal immunization to help prevent pneumonia," Russell said.
The health care professional stressed that life style choices are critical to treating and living with diabetes. "With proper management, many serious complications can be avoided or detected early, and people can live longer and healthier lives, but it all starts with knowing your status. Anyone who is overweight, has high blood pressure or a family history of diabetes, or is experiencing any of the symptoms listed previously should ask their healthcare provider about being tested for diabetes," she said.
"I guess one of the things that bothers me the most is when a new disease is discovered like aids, they poured millions of dollars into it trying to find out why and trying to find a cure. Diabetes has been around forever and I don't think it has received the proper funding to find a cure that has been needed," Russell said.