Here's the Latest Update on Diabetes

Taylor Swope

About 30.3 million people have diabetes in the United States, according to the latest figures available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This amounts to about 9.4 percent of the U.S. population. Only about 5 percent of those cases are people with Type 1 diabetes, the remainder have Type 2.

Understanding the difference between the two is important. Type 1 is not currently preventable. Its causes are unknown. Those who suffer from Type 1 have little or no ability to make insulin via their pancreas. Insulin allows blood sugar, or glucose, to be converted and used for energy. Known formerly as “juvenile diabetes,” adults can also be diagnosed with Type 1.

“Nothing we have treats the root cause of the disease or makes it go away, but we are desperately trying to find it,” says Dr. Robert P. Hoffman, a pediatric endocrinologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

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The more common Type 2 diabetes is generally found in people who are overweight, including children. In fact, the CDC says there is a serious health crisis due to the number of diagnoses of Type 2 among children. This type of diabetes is preventable with a healthy diet and exercise; however, once Type 2 diabetes is contracted a person’s body cannot properly use insulin.

With either type of diabetes, if it is not well managed, blood sugar builds up, leading to a variety of health care concerns, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, kidney failure, amputation of limbs and more.

Hoffman says the two biggest symptoms to look for in both children and adults are increased urination and thirst. “When your body cannot use glucose for energy, it builds up in the bloodstream and spills over to the kidneys,” he explains, adding that early detection is important to avoid potentially life-threatening complications.

Treatment options vary from patient to patient. In both Type 1 and Type 2, people with diabetes must continually monitor their glucose levels. Those with Type 1 generally get insulin injections or wear insulin pumps to maintain balance. One of the break-through treatments first approved by the FDA in 2016 is a hybrid, closed-loop pump, which tries to mimic the role of the pancreas.

Often called the “artificial pancreas,” this system automatically monitors blood-glucose levels and knows when and how much insulin to provide via a pump. This automated system removes the tedious process of manual finger pricks to check blood-glucose levels. Although most focus for the artificial pancreas has been for Type 1 diabetics, The New England Journal of Medicine reported in 2018 that people with Type 2 may also benefit from using it. Studies are still underway.

Although living with diabetes can be stressful, there is hope. “Patients can manage their diabetes well and should be able to participate in activities,” adds Hoffman. “It takes planning and forethought but should not interrupt life when managed well.”