Type 2 Diabetes, by the Numbers
The rules and risks associated with this common condition.
While diabetes continues to spread, it persistently appears more common in men than women. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that of the 21 million people over the age of 20 living with the disease, more (10.9 million) are men.
"I think it hits men a little bit more because we tend to not watch our weight as well as women do," says J. Mark Beard, MD, a member of the American Board of Family Medicine who specializes in diabetes. "Thankfully, that's changing now."
Frighteningly, type 2 diabetes is spreading. The CDC found that from 1990 to 1998, the number of people with type 2 diabetes jumped 33 percent. That number is expected to increase a whopping 165 percent by 2050.
So what is type 2 diabetes, exactly?
Diabetes is a disease marked by high levels of blood glucose resulting from defects in insulin production, insulin usage or both. Either the body does not produce enough insulin, or the cells ignore it. Insulin is needed to utilize glucose, the basic fuel for cells.
Type 2 diabetes itself might not be fatal — but the health risks associated with the disease can be.
When glucose builds up in the blood instead of being "eaten" by the cells, the cells become starved and could eventually deteriorate, damaging eyesight, kidneys, nerves and the heart.
While type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed at an early age, type 2 tends to strike the overweight, sedate, middle-aged and those with a family history of diabetes. But don't worry: If you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, it doesn't necessarily mean you're going to have to inject yourself with a needle full of insulin several times a day. Talk to your doctor; he or she may first recommend you lose weight. If that doesn't address the issue, oral medication is likely the next step. If oral medications are not enough, insulin injections may be necessary.
Yes, losing weight is often the best first option to try to avoid medication altogether: It not only makes you look and feel better, but it can help control blood sugar.
The warning signs of type 2 diabetes are easy to spot. See a doctor if you have frequent urges to urinate or are constantly hungry or thirsty. Other things to look out for are unexplained weight loss, fatigue, blurred vision, headaches, slow-healing sores or cuts, itchy skin, and numbness or tingling in the hands and feet.
Type 2 diabetes itself might not be fatal, but the health risks associated with it can be. And because it's a systemic or "total body" disease, it comes with weighty health risks, some of which are detailed below:
| Heart disease and stroke: Both account for about 65 percent of deaths in people with diabetes, according to the CDC. Adults with diabetes have heart-disease death rates about two to four times higher than do adults without it.
| Erectile dysfunction: Perhaps more traumatizing to some men, having type - 2 diabetes can affect a man's sex life, causing impotence and erectile dysfunction. In fact, the type 2 diabetic male is three to four times more at risk of having erectile dysfunction, according to the CDC.
| High blood pressure: About 73 percent of adults with diabetes have blood pressure greater than or equal to normal levels, and must use prescription medications for hypertension.
| Blindness: The CDC found that diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness each year among adults ages 20 to 74, causing 24,000 new cases of blindness each year.
| Kidney failure: Diabetes is also the leading cause of kidney failure, accounting for about 44 percent of new cases.
| Nervous-system disorders: The disease also affects the nervous system. About 60 to 70 percent of people with diabetes have mild to severe forms of nervous-system damage, including impaired sensation or pain in the feet or hands, slowed digestion, carpal tunnel syndrome and other nerve problems, according to the CDC.
And while it's a serious condition, it's not a death sentence. People with type 2 diabetes can live long, healthy lives with some extra attention paid to diet and exercise.
"If you're diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, losing 15 to 20 pounds may be the best thing you can do for yourself," Beard says. "Shedding just a little weight can help you avoid having to do anything else to treat it, like taking medications."
About the Writer
Nick Divito is a Las Vegas–based freelancer who has written for The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Village Voice, New York Magazine, Newsweek, The Associated Press and others. He has lost 60 pounds with Weight Watchers.