This is Diabetes

One in eleven Americans has diabetes today. Men and women of all races, ages, shapes and sizes are battling this mostly invisible disease. Every twenty-three seconds someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with diabetes. It is important to bring awareness to this chronic disease and dispel stereotypes, myths and misinformation around diabetes. Each year in November the American Diabetes Association celebrates diabetes month and this year's theme is This is Diabetes.

Diabetes is so much more than the medication used to treat it and food eaten to control it. Diabetes takes a lot of organization and planning. Diabetes can also be a financial burden. Health care can cost up to 2.3 times more than for someone without diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children or early adulthood although can be diagnosed later as well. Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disease that accounts for about 5 percent of all diabetes. Insulin is a hormone that is necessary to carry the sugar (glucose) from the bloodstream to the cell to be used for energy. People with type 1 diabetes do not produce any insulin and must take insulin injections every day.

Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90 to 95 percent of diabetes and occurs when the body doesn't produce or use insulin effectively. Type 2 diabetes is more common in adults, but is also being diagnosed more frequently in younger individuals because of extra weight and an inactive lifestyle. Being overweight, having a family history of diabetes, leading a sedentary lifestyle, and having gestational diabetes increases diabetes risk. Some people with type 2 diabetes may be able to manage their diabetes with meal planning and regular physical activity, while others may require oral medication and/or insulin. Diabetes is a progressive disease which means treatment plans will likely change as the disease progresses.

Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy. Blood glucose levels generally return to normal a few weeks after delivery. Having gestational diabetes places you at risk for developing type 2 diabetes in the coming years. Your best bet to keep this from happening is to maintain a normal weight and stay physically active.

None of us have to look very far to see someone with diabetes. It may be a co-worker who carefully packs a "diabetes friendly" lunch everyday despite what others are eating. It may be a parent who sets the alarm for 2:00 A.M. to assure their child's blood glucose levels remain safe all night. What about the athletes that tediously plan meals and snacks to keep their blood sugar stable during their event, or the person with type 1 diabetes who pricks their finger four or five times a day?

Diabetes is a public health crisis with 29 million Americans diagnosed and another 86 million at risk. Managing diabetes takes motivation, persistence, knowledge, and skill. Managing diabetes means keeping blood glucose levels within a range that lessens the chances of complications associated with diabetes. The effort it takes to accomplish this will look different for different people.

Everyone with diabetes can use a support system, but sometimes well-meaning comments can be insensitive. Remember these diabetes etiquette tips for those who don't have diabetes, from the Behavioral Diabetes Institute:

  • Don't offer unsolicited advice about food or other personal habits. Much of what you believe about diabetes may be out of date.
  • Recognize that managing diabetes is a job no one asked for. Diabetes isn't a disease that can be put on the back burner. It involves thinking about what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat, every single day. Besides food, there is medication, blood sugar monitoring, expense, stress, physical activity and preventing complications.
  • Don't tell someone with diabetes a horror story about someone you know losing a leg or going blind. Most people can live a healthy and happy life with diabetes.
  • Feel free to join in on making healthy lifestyle choices.
  • Don't encourage someone to eat something or do something they politely decline.
  • Don't look at or offer comments about blood sugar numbers. It is common for these numbers to fluctuate and unsolicited comments are not helpful.
  • Don't assume you know what someone needs. Ask what you can specifically do to help.

Share your story, or encourage a friend or family member to share theirs using #ThisIsDiabetes.

To learn more about diabetes visit the American Diabetes Association website at http://diabetes.org/ and University of Illinois Extension's website Your Guide to Diet and Diabetes at http://extension.illinois.edu/diabetes2/