National Diabetes Month raises awareness

By Erin Renzas

For Daniel Foregger, a 20-year-old and junior in Nursing, diabetes is an everyday reality.

“I was exhausted,” Foregger said of his symptoms prior to being diagnosed with the disease. “My friends would come over and I would fall asleep, which was very unlike me. I was always thirsty so I started marking how much water I was drinking and would end up drinking a third of the gallon jug.”

Foregger was diagnosed with type I Juvenile diabetes when he was 12-years-old. He has no history of diabetes in his family.

Diabetes is a disease which causes high levels of blood glucose due to problems with production or action of insulin, the hormone that helps to break down carbohydrates. The disease can lead to serious complications or possibly premature death, without treatment.

Diabetes was the sixth leading cause of death listed on U.S. death certificates in 2002. According to death certificate reports, diabetes contributed to a total of 224,092 deaths.

November once again marks the annual National Diabetes Month.

“During National Diabetes Month and throughout the year, we pay tribute to the doctors, nurses, scientists, researchers and all those dedicated to the fight against diabetes,” said the White House in a statement on Nov. 2. “By working together to prevent this disease, we can improve the quality of life for more Americans.”

20.8 million Americans or 7 percent of the population have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. In 2003, that number was estimated at 17 million.

Of those with the disease today, 14.6 million people have been diagnosed, while the other third, 6.4 million people, are unaware they have the disease.

And the number continues to rise, said Rachel Lieberman, senior marketing director of communications for the American Diabetes Association.

“People don’t know enough about diabetes, and that is represented by the fact that there is a significant number of people who are living with diabetes and don’t know it,” said Lieberman.

People born in 2000 and after have a 1-in-3 chance of developing diabetes in their lifetime, Lieberman said.

In 1990, 4 to 6 percent of the adult population in Illinois, 18 years of age and older, had diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. By 2001 that number had nearly doubled to 8 to 10 percent of the adult population.

“Those are scary statistics and represent a major shift in how many people have the disease,” Lieberman said.

There are two primary forms of diabetes – type I and type II.

Type I usually affects children and young adults, although disease onset can occur at any age. It makes up for 5 to 10 percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. There is no known way to prevent type I diabetes. Factors, which contribute to the disease, include family history, genetics and environment.

Type II diabetes is attributed to older age, obesity, family history of diabetes, history of gestational diabetes, impaired glucose metabolism, physical inactivity and race/ethnicity.

“As a kid growing up with a disease you mature much faster,” Foregger said. “It is a lot of responsibility and stress – the first thing they do when you are diagnosed is notify you about all of the possible complications.”

Recently, Foregger has worked with children diagnosed with diabetes at a children’s camp in Idaho called Camp Hodia. The camp nurses influenced him to study nursing, he said.

Each day, Foregger tests his blood sugar levels four times. At night he takes one long acting insulin shot and then correction dosages during the day if needed.

“I think about it all the time – about the effects of the things I put into my body,” he said. “I am not sure I am directly conscious of it, but when I am exercising or doing activities, I am always asking myself ‘How is this going to impact me?'”

The majority of the growth in diabetes rates comes from type II diagnosis, as opposed to Foregger’s type I disease.

According to Lieberman, this increase is, at least partially, due to increased obesity rates and a decrease in activity in the United States.

Approximately 200 to 300 students at the University have diabetes, in proportion to the national statistic, said David Lawrance, Ph. D., staff physician at McKinley Health Center.

Symptoms of the disease are subtle and include being tired, thirsty and feeling sick, Lawrance said.

Although it is not a disease most people have to worry about, Lawrance suggests students maintain a healthy diet and weight and be aware of if their family has a history of the disease. McKinley Health Center offers screenings and blood sugar balance tests.

The American Diabetes Association does not keep data on the number of people aged 18 to 24 affected by the disease, Lieberman said.

“What we can say is that what we are seeing is an increase in diabetes among people,” she said. “We used to think of diabetes as a disease that people got later in life – in their 50s or 60s. Now we see 8, 9, 10-year-olds with the disease and that translates into 20 and 30-year-old diabetics.”