FAIRBANKS — The incidence of diabetes is increasing at an alarming rate nationwide, and Alaska is no exception.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in 2010 in the United States nearly 26 million people had diabetes. They are of all ages, races and backgrounds with 1.9 million new cases diagnosed in that year alone.
The American Diabetes Association in Alaska reports that 68,500 Alaskans are diabetic.
Alaska, like the 49 other states, also has experienced an increase in the prevalence of diabetes. The upsurge, according to Alaska Division of Public Health, is notably higher with people age 45 and older.
The fact that people are living longer with diabetes because of better management also gives rise to the current numbers. However, a 2011 CDC study projects that if current trends continue, as many as 1 in 3 U.S. adults could have diabetes by 2050.
The CDC also estimates that 79 million Americans have pre-diabetes, where blood sugar is higher than normal but not enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. The condition not only puts them at higher risk for developing Type 2 diabetes but also increases their risk of heart disease, stroke and kidney failure.
Although insulin treatment for diabetes was discovered by a Canadian doctor almost a century ago, in 1921, a cure still hasn’t been found.
However, diabetes care and prevention strategies have improved immensely over time as research scientists continue to search for a cure.
And there is hope. With lifestyle changes, pre-diabetics and Type 2 diabetics can return their blood sugar levels to normal with some weight loss, healthy eating and increased physical activity.
November is Diabetes Awareness Month, a perfect time to think about whether you might be diabetic.
A CDC study shows that the incidence of adult diabetes is higher among racial and ethnic minorities: 16.1 percent for American Indians/Alaska Natives; 12.6 percent for blacks, 11.8 percent for Hispanics, 8.4 percent for Asian-Americans, and 7.1 percent for non-Hispanic whites.
Diabetes rates are higher for Americans aged 65 and older. Half have pre-diabetes, and nearly 27 percent have diabetes.
In Alaska and elsewhere, diabetes takes a big bite out of state health care costs for the percentage of the population it serves.
Unless there is a dramatic change to healthy lifestyles, state health studies forecast that the prevalence of diabetes in adults in Alaska will continue to climb due to the increasing rise of obesity and physical inactivity and the state’s aging population.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes means your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high. Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose, or sugar, for our bodies to use for energy. Your blood carries the glucose to all the cells in your body.
The pancreas makes a hormone called insulin, which it releases into the blood to help glucose get into cells. When you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use its own insulin as well as it should. This causes sugar to build up in your blood. Too much glucose in the blood causes pre-diabetes or diabetes.
Diabetes can cause serious health complications, including heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, and lower-extremity amputations. Diabetes is the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States.
Types of diabetes
Type 1 diabetes occurs in childhood or young adulthood when the body stops making insulin, so the individual requires insulin injections.
Type 2 diabetes occurs in adults and children when there is not enough insulin produced and the body does not use the insulin effectively to control the blood sugar.
Gestational Diabetes occurs during pregnancy and usually goes away after delivery.
Pre-diabetes is a condition that occurs when the blood sugar is higher than normal but not high enough to be diabetes.
Signs of type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes can be severe, very mild or none at all, depending on how high blood sugars are.
• Increased thirst
• Increased hunger
• Fatigue (feeling very tired most of the time)
• Increased urination
• Weight loss
• Blurred vision
• A blood test to check your blood sugar will show if you have pre-diabetes or diabetes.
• Eating a healthy variety of foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, non-fat dairy, healthy fats, lean or substitute meats in moderate portions.
• Getting physically active on a daily basis.
• Weight loss to improve blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol.
• Learning all you can about diabetes.
• Regular health visits.
On the web
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
Alaska Department of Health and Social Services:
Contact Fairbanks Daily News-Miner staff writer Mary Beth Smetzer at 907-459-7546.