Seventeen million Americans suffer from diabetes, and many more have the disease and don't even know it.
In a Healthwatch series called "Dealing With Diabetes," The Early Show is examining the latest developments and strategies for treating and preventing the disease.
"The story of diabetes is really the story of insulin," explains medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay. "It's a hormone that your body makes in the pancreas that helps you take sugar from your blood and bring it into the cells of your body."
There are different types of diabetes she notes, "In Type 1 diabetes, people don't make any insulin. The islet cells inside the pancreas are burned out and they must have insulin to stay alive."
Type 2 or adult onset diabetes is quite different. Senay says, "In this disease, people have insulin, generally speaking, but their body doesn't use it well. It's very inefficient. The result, though, is still too much sugar in the blood."
A third type is gestational diabetes, which develops during pregnancy and usually resolves after pregnancy.
Senay notes juvenile and adult onset are what Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes used to be called. Type 2 cannot longer be called adult onset because overweight children are getting it as well. Type 2 is linked to the obesity epidemic.
The new terminology, therefore, is no longer based on age, but on how it functions in the body.
The reason Type 2 diabetes is being emphasized is because a lot of people who are overweight don't even know they have it.
Another condition millions of people probably have and don't know it is pre-diabetes.
The following are symptoms to look for, in case you suspect you might have diabetes, Senay explains:
- Trouble with cuts that don't heal well
- Excessive thirst
- Unexplained weight loss
- Blurred vision
- Frequent urination
Any of these symptoms should press you to get to your doctor and be screened for diabetes.
Senay recommends at age 45 you should be screened to see if you have any pre-diabetic warning signs, and earlier if there are other risk factors, such as:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- A family history of diabetes
- High-risk ethnic groups including African-Americans, Native Americans and Hispanics are risk factors that warrant screening
- History of gestational diabetes, which is a type of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy
It's also recommended that high-risk children who are obese and have other risk factors be screened now, too.
The best way to prevent diabetes, Senay says, is through good diet and regular exercise. The earlier in life you develop good habits, the better. Type 2 diabetes develops gradually over time, and there are many people at risk who may be completely unaware that they're headed for trouble. So the idea is to make lifestyle changes now so you don't get in trouble further down the road.