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Number of diabetes sufferers skyrocketing: study

A new study shows that the number of adults living with diabetes worldwide has more than doubled in the past 30 years. CBS News Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton says experts predict that in the United Sates alone, more than half of adult population will be dealing with some form of the diabetes by 2020. And while some cases are tied to genetics, many more are tied to obesity and unhealthy lifestyle choices.

Ashton shared the story of 32-year-old Gwen Seton. Ashton reported three years ago, Seton began feeling exhausted after almost every meal. When she went to her doctor, a routine blood test quickly diagnosed her problem as diabetes.

Seton told CBS News, "I was actually quite shocked when I got it as young as I did. Usually it's a later onset disease in my family."

Seton inherited diabetes from her mother's side of the family, and overnight, her life changed. Now, she must follow strict dietary rules, take insulin injections, and test her blood sugar level up to seven times a day - all to make sure her diabetes is kept under control.

Seton said, "It gets frustrating. It's a constant consideration. It's not impossible to deal with but it is something you have to be mindful of."

A new study by the American Diabetes Association indicates that more people than ever before are now living with the sometimes fatal disease. In 1980, an estimated 153 million people were living with diabetes. In 2010 that number jumped to 347 million - a 56 percent increase that has alarmed the medical community.

Dr. Robin Goland, professor of clinical diabetes at Columbia University, said, "The most likely explanation has to do with the poor life style habits of most of us in that we are exercising less than we should be and eating more then we should be."

But there is some good news for people like Gwen Seton who have learned to manage their diabetes. Better treatments and early intervention have helped extend the life expectancy of those living with the disease by almost 15 years.

Ashton added on "The Early Show" some people have a higher risk for developing diabetes, including these factors:

1. Obesity: Ashton said, "Worldwide, obesity is the major reason. People are eating more and moving less."

2. Family history

3. Certain ethnic groups, such as Asian people, African-Americans, Ashton said, are at higher risk.

4. Women with polycystic ovarian syndrome or who have had diabetes during pregnancy.

5. Certain types of medication, Ashton said, such as statins that lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol in high doses can be associated with increased risk of diabetes and antidepressants, some of those can increase the risk.

Ashton explained the difference between Type I and Type II diabetes. Type I, she said, is an auto-immune disease when your body does not make enough insulin. However, the majority of people - over 90 percent of diabetics - have Type II diabetes, Ashton said.

She explained, "(Type II) is what is closely related, although not completely, to obesity."

Many people that have diabetes are unaware that they have it, Ashton said. She recommended routine blood testing every year.

She added, "The big symptoms of diabetes, excessive thirst, frequent urination, unexplained weight loss are the big ones. But you can have non-healing wounds or sores. You really want to ask your doctor if anything seems out of the ordinary."

To help avoid diabetes, Ashton recommends making better lifestyle and behavioral choices.

"You want to eat a healthful diet. You want to exercise as much as possible. Because we know that, again, as the obesity rates go up, so have the diabetes incidents worldwide," she said. "Those things are critically important. If you know you are at high risk, you want to aggressively try to modify them - even if it involves switching certain types of medications."

Ashton added, "I tell my patients we should consider ourselves potentially at risk for diabetes."