The number of Americans diagnosed with diabetes continues to increase. In the United States, the disease has become an epidemic with nearly 26 million afflicted. And recent estimates project that as many as 1 in 3 American adults will have diabetes in 2050.
Dr. Ronald Graf, an endocrinologist with MultiCare Health System, works with diabetic patients daily. Here he answers some questions about the disease.
What are the different types of diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas cannot make insulin. Without insulin, sugar piles up in your blood vessels. People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin to help get the sugar into the cells. This type cannot be prevented.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not make enough insulin, the insulin does not work properly, or both. Being overweight makes type 2 diabetes more likely to occur. It can happen in a person of any age and the occurrence in children is increasing.
Gestational diabetes is a form of glucose intolerance that is diagnosed during pregnancy. It requires treatment to bring maternal blood glucose to normal levels and avoid complications in the infant.
Do you see a lot of patients coming to you for help with diabetes?
The vast majority of the patients we see in our practice have diabetes. About 75 to 80 percent have type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
How do you know if you have diabetes?
Maybe one-third of the people with diabetes are undiagnosed. When symptoms occur they include frequency of urination, excess thirst, weight loss, recurrent bladder or yeast infections and blurry vision. These are typical signs.
What do you do if you think you might have diabetes?
See your doctor. In folks with type 1 diabetes, the condition tends to occur quite abruptly. In those cases it’s important to be seen by your health care provider as soon as possible. In folks with type 2 diabetes, they may have no symptoms for many years – maybe 10 to 15 years before diagnosis. Your health care provider should be monitoring your blood sugar, especially if you have risk factors.
Can we say definitively that diet plays a role in diabetes?
Diet is responsible for what the pancreas has to react to. If you overtax that poor little pancreas especially if there’s a genetic predisposition for the pancreas to fail, then the result is an increase in the frequency of diabetes. Also, diabetes, especially, type 2 has a strong family connection.
How do the two types of diabetes break down in terms of percentages?
Type 2 is about 80 percent of patients. Type 1 is 10 or 15 percent.