Diabetes: Insidious and Deadly…and Underrated

By Laura Brooks on 09/05/2008
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In a recent focus group conducted by the American Diabetes Association, participants were asked to rank the severity of various health problems including cancer, heart disease and diabetes.  On a scale 1 to 10, cancer and heart disease were received 9s and 10s while diabetes/type 2 diabetes only got 4s and 5s.

"The general consensus seems to be, ‘There’s medication,’ ‘Look how good people look with diabetes’ or ‘I’ve never heard of anybody dying of diabetes,’ " said Larry Hausner, chief executive of the American Diabetes Association, which held the focus groups.

Study Finds Most People Underestimate the Health Risks of Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes and diabetes is anything but a minor disease, affecting the entire body, from hearing and vision to sexual function, mental health and sleep. It is the leading cause of blindness and amputation and triples the risk for heart attack and stroke.

"It is a disease that does have the ability to eat you alive," said John Buse, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and ADA President for Medicine and Science.

The challenge for doctors is to convince patients that diabetes is a major health threat.

"We want people to understand this is serious," said Hausner, a former executive with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Type 2 diabetes can lead to liver and kidney disease as well as serious gastrointestinal complications. Men with diabetes suffer from erectile dysfunction and women often suffer from vaginal dryness, experts say.

Yes, diabetes and type 2 diabetes is treatable, and new medications are continually being researched and developed, but managing the disease can be difficult. It’s not always easy to adopt a healthy lifestyle program, and even with new habits, often expensive care is needed. Researchers hope that by getting the public to take the real risks of the disease seriously will also make it easier to get people focused on type 2 diabetes prevention and early treatment.   

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