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More people die of diabetes every year than previously thought, a recent study found.
According to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Boston University, diabetes leads to 12 percent of deaths in the United States, a higher percentage than previous research indicated.
The same study, which was published in the journal “PLOS ONE,” also found diabetics have 90 percent higher death rates than non-diabetics.
“It’s a hard, hard thing when someone tells you that you have the diagnosis of diabetes,” said Dr. Amna Feroze, who specializes in family medicine and practices at Sentara Family Medicine & Internal Medicine Physicians in Williamsburg. “It’s very saddening. But, to tell you the truth, there’s so many ways to catch it before it happens.”
Diabetes is a serious public health issue in part because it contributes to a number of other conditions, including hypertension, chronic kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, depression, sleep disorders and cancer, according to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists.
It is also serious because it is widespread. In 1980, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the U.S. had 5.53 million people with diabetes; by 2014, the U.S. had 21.95 million diabetics, almost a 300 percent increase, the study said.
Yet even as people develop conditions such as prediabetes and Type 2 Diabetes (which affects 90 to 95 percent of diabetics), they may not know they have either.
“Diabetes is a silent killer, actually,” said Feroze. “It does not show that it’s affecting you in so many other ways, which leads to the complications. It influences your life, and your family’s life, in so many ways. It’s almost like a pandemic in our country.”
Every day, five or six of the approximately 24 patients Feroze sees have either prediabetes or diabetes, she said, or roughly 20 percent. And in Hampton Roads, she said, one population is more vulnerable to the disease than others.
“Diabetes is more rampant, less well diagnosed, less well treated, and less well prevented in African American populations,” she added
The University of Pennsylvania study bears this out. Researchers found diabetic individuals made up 23.7 percent of survey respondents who died within five years of the survey. Among blacks, the number was 30.5 percent.
Yet fighting diabetes in Hampton Roads calls for more than just a medical solution, said Feroze; education and awareness programs should begin in schools and at home.
Preventive measures are key, she added, including frequent exercise and healthy nutritional choices.
“We all want that slice of pizza once in awhile, or that good steak once in awhile,” said Feroze. “Otherwise, we have to watch the things around us, which can make us go in that direction, really. That’s the duty of the primary care physician, to prevent these things from progressing.”
For people who already have Type 2 Diabetes, Feroze also has advice.
“That relationship that you have with your primary care physician, really makes a lot of difference in your life. I really feel that,” she said. “Walking, or really any exercise you like to do, definitely helps, besides the diet. Little things really do make a lot of difference.”
Still, one observer finds room for optimism, despite the recent findings.
“Although diabetes still has a host of serious complications, the rates of those complications have been declining steadily in recent years as we’ve found better treatments and a greater appreciation of the fact that good diabetes management can reduce complication risk,” Matt Petersen, managing director of medical information for the American Diabetes Association, wrote in an email.
“Quality of life has been greatly improved with new medications and new and improved medical devices…that provide more flexibility for everyday life and activities,” he added. “Your diabetes diagnosis can be empowering as you become more in tune with your body and your health.”
Read more stories about health and wellness in WYDaily’s Health Section.