Thirty-six percent of adults ages 40-74 in Kentucky are at high risk for developing diabetes, largely due to the state’s high rates of obesity and inactivity. Experts believe 300,000 Kentuckians have diabetes, one-third of whom are yet to be diagnosed. You or your loved one could be ignoring symptoms, which can often seem harmless.
Frequent urination, excessive thirst, extreme hunger, unusual weight loss, increased fatigue, irritability, or blurry vision are frequently ignored signs of the disease. Having just one or more of these symptoms means that you should be tested.
Dr. Dennis Karounos, director of the University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center diabetes program and associate professor of internal medicine, UK College of Medicine, and collaborators have been researching vaccine-like therapies to help develop an immune defense against diabetes. He has helped to pioneer an inactive insulin that has proven to prevent Type I diabetes in animal studies.
Type I diabetes is caused by the immune system destroying all the insulin-producing cells. Insulin injections are needed to lower the elevated blood sugars. In contrast, individuals with Type II diabetes usually still make insulin, but their bodies are resistant to the actions of insulin, resulting in elevation of the blood sugar.
“Diabetes affects every organ system in the body,” says Karounos. “It is imperative that people at risk be tested for diabetes and receive the best possible care in order to prevent complications. Known for showing minimal symptoms, diabetes is often dismissed until a complication occurs, and testing is therefore imperative.”
Karounos says that everyone over age 45 should be tested by their family doctor for diabetes. Those who are overweight, Hispanic, African American, or those who have delivered large babies should be tested even sooner. Those who have relatives with Type II diabetes, including children whose parents have Type II diabetes, should be tested.
Kentucky is higher risk
Recent studies provide evidence of why diabetes may be so prevalent in Kentucky. We have one of the highest percentages of smokers in the country. There is a two-fold increase of developing diabetes for those who smoke. For individuals who smoke but also have risk factors for developing Type II diabetes (as listed above), smoking cessation may prevent the development of diabetes. Karounos recommends enrolling in a smoking cessation program such as the Cooper/Clayton method, offered by the Multidisciplinary Lung Cancer Program at the UK Markey Cancer Center.
Karounos also suggests lowering cholesterol levels to aid in the prevention of heart disease, which is four times greater in individuals with diabetes. Most people with diabetes have abnormal cholesterol levels that contribute to increased risk for heart attack and stroke.
Alarmingly, children get diabetes now more than they did 15 to 20 years ago. In fact, 30 percent of children who develop diabetes get Type II diabetes, which in the past was almost exclusively seen in adults. Karounos says the trend is a result of a combination of eating too much fast food and decreased exercise.
“Studies suggest 30 minutes of exercise five days per week and a 7 percent reduction in body weight leads to a 58 percent decrease in risk for developing Type II diabetes,” Karounos says.
For those who have diabetes, improving pump technology offers promising health and lifestyle improvements. Current pumps have a glucose meter built in that can communicate wirelessly to the pump and advise the patient on how much insulin to take based on readings. According to Karounos, pumps in the near future will have glucose sensors that sound an alarm when blood sugar is high or low.
UK offers a program that outlines the aspects of living with diabetes through one-on-one meetings with certified educators, including dietitians and nurses. For more information or to enroll in the diabetes education program, call (859) 257-1693 for the adult program, or (859) 323-5404 ext. 274 for the pediatric program.