The Centers for Disease Control currently rank diabetes as the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. But according to statistics published by the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, the related complications caused by diabetes actually push the rank higher than that.
The Clearinghouse states that diabetes is traditionally underreported as a leading cause of death. In 2006, for example, only 35 to 40 percent of death certificates for deceased diabetics listed the disease anywhere on the certificate. And just 10 to 15 percent of certificates for deceased diabetics had it listed as a contributing cause of death.
The reality is that many people are dying from the secondary complications of diabetes. In fact, the risk for death among people with diabetes is about twice that of those without it.
“We don’t want to scare people, but we want them to have the facts. The number one cause of blindness is diabetic retinopathy. The number one reason for foot and leg amputation is diabetes. The number one reason people have to go on dialysis due to kidney failure is because of diabetes. And the number one killer of type II diabetics is cardiac disease,” says Robin Mitchell, an RN and Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) at Grande Ronde Hospital.
Mitchell says diabetes that goes undiagnosed and untreated wreaks havoc on the body. An uncontrolled onslaught of high levels of sugar in the bloodstream causes significant deterioration to the tissues of the body.
The good news is that with proper treatment, medication and lifestyle changes both type I and type II diabetics can live longer, healthier lives.
“Some tissue damage can be stopped and even reversed, but not all,” adds hospital Dietary Director Susan Lewis, a Registered Dietitian, also a CDE.
For approximately 12 years, Mitchell and Lewis have joined forces to battle diabetes with the hundreds of patients which have been referred to them by a primary care physician.
Mitchell’s role is to educate people on the anatomy and physiology of the disease and the role proper medication plays. Lewis then works with each client to educate them on proper nutrition, as well as assessing specific dietary needs and controlling erratic eating habits.
“That’s one of the primary causes of erratic blood sugar levels. Skipping meals causes serious problems,” Lewis says. “There are a lot of misperceptions about diabetes. Just one example is looking at when a person eats as well as what. A diabetic has to eat. And they have to eat regularly.”
Both Lewis and Mitchell agree there is so much an individual can do to control the advance of diabetes and the devastating effects it has on the body. The individual choice to make positive lifestyle changes— healthy eating and exercise—are two key weapons in battling diabetes.
For type II diabetics, especially, Lewis says, a healthier lifestyle will not only prolong life, but also improve the quality of that life.
“If you are pre-diabetic and don’t do anything about it, you may feel fine now,” adds Mitchell. “But that damage is going to show up two or three years down the road. Why wait until then to do something? Do something now.”
Common symptoms of diabetes include increased thirst, increased frequency of urination, being tired or having no energy.
“And if you have a family history of diabetes, haven’t been to the doctor in a while and aren’t feeling good, see your doctor and get checked out,” advises Lewis.