When you hear the word epidemic, you may likely think of diseases that plague thousands of people in less developed countries far away. However, epidemics are not exclusive to such places. In fact, the world”s most widespread epidemics strike a lot closer to home than what you may think.
An epidemic defined is a disease that has come to affect a large portion of a given population. The exact parameters differ among experts but a good estimation puts the number at around 3% of a population. If the number of people affected by the disease reaches this number, it can be considered an epidemic.
Given this definition, people living in developed countries of the world are not exempt from a growing global epidemic – one that has seen little attention until recently.
Diabetes is now considered an epidemic that is affecting not just a select number of countries but the entire globe. It joins a short, but unfortunately, growing list of diseases of which, HIV/AIDS is part of.
Projections for the disease”s spread are alarming. The World Health Organization (WHO) pegs the number of diabetes patients to reach 240 million people worldwide by the year 2010.
The disease comes in two forms: Type I and Type II. Both, however, are similar in that both types involve the hormone insulin in the body and its ability to process sugar in the bloodstream. Too much or too little sugar in the body has adverse effects ranging from kidney failure, eyesight loss, and in extreme cases, coma.
Type I diabetes occurs when the immune system attacks the insulin-forming cells in the body, misled into thinking that these cells are harmful. The pancreas therefore fail to produce insulin leading to a heightened level of sugar in the body, which puts stresses the kidneys, leading to further complications.
Most of the patients demonstrate the disease”s symptoms at around 15 years of age, although the disease may have already been contracted years before. It is because of this that experts have interchanged the term Type I diabetes with “juvenile onset diabetes”.
However, recently, this practice has been set aside in light of the alarmingly increasing number of young people contracting Type II diabetes.
Type II diabetes (also known as “adult onset diabetes”) is characterized by the body”s failure to process sugar in the bloodstream despite the fact that insulin is produced by the pancreas. This could be because not enough insulin is produced or that the body simply does not respond to it. This form of diabetes accounts for 90 percent of the estimated 300 million cases of the disease worldwide.
There is a huge correlation between Type II diabetes and obesity. Most obese individuals lead a sedentary lifestyle, while consuming food high in carbohydrates, sugars and fat. These poor eating habits coupled with the lack / absence of physical activity increases the volume of sugar in the bloodstream. The pancreas cannot produce enough insulin to meet the demands of processing so much sugar and therefore diabetes sets in.
If left unchecked, the complications arising from diabetes are many and adverse.
– Retinopathy is the degeneration of the retina of the eye, leading to loss of sight.
– Kidney diseases / failure sets in when the organ finally breaks down due to the excessive stress from filtering too much sugar in the blood.
– Nervous system disorders are experienced by around half of diabetes sufferers. Symptoms such as impaired sensation in the limbs, carpal tunnel syndrome, and even impotence have been recorded among diabetics. When sensation is impaired in the limbs, infection from injuries may progress without being noticed, leading to no other resort but amputation.
– Diabetic coma (diabetic ketoacidosis) occurs when a patient becomes severely dehydrated and metabolism is greatly imbalanced. Since the cells in the body are starved of energy, the entire body shuts down leading to a coma.
These complications, however, pale in comparison to the number of lives that are lost every year due to diabetes. As of now, the number of deaths related to the disease is placed at around 4 million annually.
But perhaps the greater tragedy is the fact that the adverse effect of diabetes (particularly with Type II) could have been prevented. But seen from a different point of view, that is also part of the good news. By observing a healthy lifestyle of eating and exercising right, the chances of leading a full and productive life despite the disease are very possible.
Start with the selection of the right food and its intake in the proper amounts. Consultation with a medical professional will inform you on what is right for your body type.
Observe the habit of physical exercises throughout the day. A regimented workout schedule may not be necessary. Walking and doing manual household chores may be sufficient. Again, consult with your doctor to know what is appropriate for you.
If you are diabetic, or at risk of it, or if you know someone who is, take the time to share this information and learn more about it. If the proper information and motivation is shared enough, there still may be a chance to reverse the tide of this global epidemic.