Diabetes affects between 1.5 and 2 percent of the the world’s population, or about 140 million people. The World Health Organization estimates that the number could double by the year 2025. The onset can begin with no noticeable symptoms, and therein lies much of the danger.

The good news is that diabetes is preventable and detectable with tests, and those who have it can control it.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus is a chronic chemical disorder in which blood sugar (glucose) levels are above normal. Insulin enables glucose molecules to enter the bloodstream. Diabetes disrupts the body’s mechanisms for moving glucose out of the bloodstream and using it in cells. As a result, levels of blood glucose stay excessively high, leading to serious complications over time.

Diabetes comes in three varieties. With type 1 diabetes, insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are destroyed over time. This process may take months or years without any noticeable symptoms.

With type 2 diabetes, the pancreas produces some insulin, but not enough to activate the portals that absorb glucose. Type 2 accounts for about 90 percent of all diagnosed cases, and a number of sufferers are children. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases estimates that more than 80 percent of those who have type 2 diabetes are overweight. With type 2, symptoms develop slowly, and in some cases there are no observable symptoms at all. Many people with type 2 diabetes require insulin.

A third form of diabetes, gestational diabetes, affects up to 4 percent of pregnant women. It is a temporary condition, but the sufferer has a 40 percent chance of getting type 2 diabetes later in life.

Diabetes has a number of symptoms, including extreme thirst, frequent urination, excessive tiredness and hunger, dry and itchy skin, a tingling sensation in the feet, blurry eyesight, and inexplicable weight loss or gain.

Prevention and treatment

The results of diabetes can be dire: Abnormally high levels of glucose can damage the small and large blood vessels, leading to diabetic blindness, kidney disease, amputations of limbs, stroke, and heart disease, and is the leading cause of death for people who have diabetes.

A study of more than 3,000 persons who were considered high risk for type 2 diabetes revealed that the disease can be prevented. Or, if the condition is already present, it can be controlled.

Two essential keys are exercise and diet. Subjects who engaged in moderate physical activity for about 30 minutes a day, followed a low-fat and low-calorie diet, and lost 5 to 7 percent of their body weight, cut their risk of getting type 2 diabetes by 58%.

Getting the entire family involved in an exercise program, even one as simple as walking, can help avoid future problems with diabetes in children. Blood sugar lowers immediately when you begin losing weight, and a successful weight loss program can eliminate the need for medication altogether.

To live successfully with diabetes, you must manage your glucose level. Blood glucose goes up after eating. Eating about the same amount of food each day at about the same times each day without skipping meals or snacks is crucial. In addition, take your medicines and exercise on a regular schedule every day.

The importance of regularity and consistency cannot be overemphasized. Keeping your blood glucose at a healthy level will prevent or slow down diabetes problems.

For more information, see the following web sites: niddk.nih.gov (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases); cdc.gov (U.S. Centers for Disease Control); fda.gov (U.S. Food and Drug Administration); norcalwellbeing.org.