In the first of a three-part series on The Early Show about diabetes, medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay says the majority of people who have it suffer from type 2 diabetes, which develops over time when the body loses its ability to process insulin and regulate blood sugar. It's thought that most type 2 diabetes cases develop as a result of obesity.
According to the latest figures from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20.8 million Americans now have diabetes. That's seven percent of the population, and an increase of more than 14 percent since 2003.
The new numbers highlight the growing diabetes epidemic in the United States. Nearly a third of these Americans are undiagnosed.
The most common risk factors contributing to diabetes are obesity due to poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle, which can be tough habits to break for someone who's diagnosed with the disease late in life. Type 2 diabetes is also associated with older age, family history, a history of gestational diabetes and certain ethnic groups.
African-Americans, Hispanic and Latino Americans, American Indians, and some Asian-Americans and native Hawaiians or other Pacific islanders are at higher risk for type 2 diabetes.
Managing diabetes requires constant monitoring and control of blood sugar through diet and exercise. Controlling blood sugar can be difficult, and sometimes medication is also required.
Patients need to keep in mind that diabetes is a moving target. A patient who has good control of blood sugar at one point in time still needs regular checkups from a doctor to see whether his or her diabetes has progressed and to see if they're still getting the right treatment.
The finger-stick blood test at home is a useful tool for measuring blood sugar on a day-to-day basis, but a blood test at a doctor's office is also recommended to see how well blood sugar is controlled over a period of months.
Weight gain is a major contributor to type 2 diabetes, and doctors are seeing more and more cases of type 2 diabetes in children as a result of the obesity epidemic. The best way to prevent type 2 diabetes is to make healthy lifestyle choices, such as eating a healthy diet and doing regular exercise.
People need to adopt a healthy lifestyle as early as possible in life to try to avoid diabetes. But it's never too late.
Some people who have not had a healthy lifestyle may have pre-diabetes, or blood glucose levels higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as diabetes. Studies have shown people with pre-diabetes who lose weight and increase their physical activity can prevent or delay diabetes and even return their blood glucose levels to normal and prevent full-blown diabetes.
For diabetes prevention resources, click here.
To visit the Web site of the National Diabetes Education program, click here.