Diabetes: An Epidemic in China… And What You Can Do About It!
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes mellitus, or diabetes as it is more commonly known, is a condition caused by the body’s inability to handle glucose (a type of sugar) properly. Glucose is an energy source for the body. Insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas, helps move glucose from the blood stream to the body’s cells. In diabetes, insulin is either not produced by the body (Type 1 diabetes) or works ineffectively (Type 2 diabetes). Type 2 diabetes is more common and associated with increased weight and inactivity. Both types of diabetes result in high blood sugar levels.
What complications can result from diabetes?
Diabetes can result in many serious medical problems. Prolonged levels of high blood sugar can damage multiple organ systems, including the eyes (leading to blindness); the kidneys (leading to kidney failure and dialysis); and the nervous system (leading to decrease in sensation, injuries to extremities, and amputations). Diabetes also damages the cardiovascular system and dramatically increases the risk for heart attacks and stroke, particularly in those that smoke.
Why is diabetes an epidemic?
The World Health Organization noted in 2013 that 350 million people worldwide had diabetes. In particular, China has been called the “World’s New Diabetes Capital.” Recent studies have shown that China has the most number of patients with diabetes in the world and that rate of diabetes in China is even higher than in the US. Rates of diabetes are especially high in urban areas like Shanghai.
What are the symptoms of diabetes and how is it diagnosed?
While diabetes can sometimes be asymptomatic, people with diabetes may experience frequent urination, thirst, hunger, fatigue, and blurry vision. Diabetes can be diagnosed by common blood tests, including a blood glucose level (often done after fasting), or hemoglobin A1C test. Risk factors for Type 2 diabetes include having close family members with diabetes, inactivity, being overweight, having early diabetes (also known as “prediabetes”), and having had diabetes during pregnancy.
If I have diabetes, what should I do?
Controlling blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol (typically with the help of medications), as well as regular eye and foot checks and lab testing, are key components to managing diabetes. Quitting smoking, increasing physical activity, eating a healthy diet, and finding a good physician and team that will work with you to manage all of these issues is extremely important. Shanghai United Family Hospital has developed a special program and package to help patients with diabetes receive optimal care. By being diligent about maintaining their health, patients with diabetes can best minimize the risk for complications associated with this epidemic condition.
Xu Y, et al. “Prevalence and Control of Diabetes in Chinese Adults.” JAMA. 2013; 310(9): 938-958.