Diabetes is a condition in which the body cannot produce or properly respond to insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. It acts as a key that unlocks the cells to allow glucose (simplest form of sugars derived from food) to travel from the blood into the cells and be used or stored as energy. When there is too little or no insulin, glucose builds up in the blood and will result in what we call "high blood sugar" or "high blood glucose." Uncontrolled high blood glucose levels can damage blood vessels and nerves, and eventually lead to the development of long-term complications that affect the eyes (retinopathy), heart, kidney (nephropathy), feet and skin (neuropathy) and could lead to sexual dysfunction. Studies show that early diagnosis and treatment of diabetes can reduce the risk of complications significantly. In fact, many people with diabetes today can live healthy and happy lives. Diabetes disproportionally affects minority populations, including Asian descents despite their lower body weight. However, there is little public awareness of this epidemic in the Asian American population.
Types of Diabetes
Diabetes is a disease in which the body is unable to produce insulin or unable to properly use and store glucose (a form of sugar). Glucose backs up in the bloodstream - causing one's blood glucose (sometimes referred to as blood sugar) to rise too high. There are two major types of diabetes.
Type 1 Diabetes
In type 1 (formerly called juvenile-onset or insulin-dependent) diabetes, the body completely stops producing any insulin, a hormone that enables the body to use glucose found in foods for energy. People with type 1 diabetes must take daily insulin injections to survive. This form of diabetes usually develops in children or young adults but can occur at any age. It is also more common in Northern American and European countries. People of East Asian descent have lower rates of type 1 diabetes compared with Caucasians.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 (formerly called adult-onset or non insulin-dependent) diabetes results when the body doesn't produce enough insulin and/or is unable to use insulin properly (insulin resistance). This form of diabetes usually occurs in people who are over 40, overweight and have a family history of diabetes, although today it is increasingly occurring in younger people, particularly adolescents. People of African, Latino and Asian descent, as well as Native Americans, are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Up to 95% of diabetes found in Asian descents have type 2 diabetes. A recent study shows that 1 out of 6 Asians living in N.Y.C. has diabetes. Up to 45% of all Asian in N.Y.C. has either DM or pre-diabetes. These patients can often control their diabetes by making lifestyle changes at the early stages. As the disease progresses, patients may need to take oral medications and/or insulin injections to further help them manage their blood glucose.
Sometimes diabetes is diagnosed during the course of a pregnancy. This condition is common among the Asian population. For a healthy baby, women with 'gestational diabetes' need to learn to manage blood glucose, usually through diet and exercise. Sometimes insulin is required for the remainder of the pregnancy. Blood glucose levels of women with gestational diabetes usually return to normal after delivery of the baby. Women who have had gestational diabetes are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes, however, especially if they are overweight.
People who have higher than normal blood glucose levels but not high enough to be diagnosed as having diabetes are considered to have "pre-diabetes." People with pre-diabetes are already at risk for developing heart disease. If you have pre-diabetes, you are also more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life. The good news is if you have pre-diabetes, you can significantly reduce your chance of developing into diabetes by weight reduction and exercise.
Symptoms of Diabetes
Increased urinary frequency
Unusual weight loss
Increased skin, bladder or gum infections
Tingling or numbness in hands or feet
Slow to heal wounds
- Increased unexplained fatigue
Sometimes, patients with type 2 diabetes may not experience the above symptoms until the disease reaches a later stage. In fact, up to 25% of people with diabetes do not know they have diabetes.