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Turning the tide in fight against diabetes - John C. Riley

While November is often marked as the month of giving thanks, and rightfully so, it is also National Diabetes Awareness Month.

According to the American Diabetes Association, nearly 24 million children and adults in the U.S. have diabetes and another 57 million have pre-diabetes and are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Sadly, one-in-three children born in the United States, today, will face a future with diabetes, if current trends continue. Half of minority children will face this future.

In Georgia, the statistics are even more discouraging. Diabetes is the most common disease in our state. In 2007 alone, approximately 700,000 adults, aged 18 years and older (10.1 percent of the Georgia adult population), had been diagnosed with diabetes.

In 2006, diabetes was the seventh-leading cause of death, killing 1,626 Georgians, equivalent to about 5 deaths every day. For every death with diabetes as a primary cause, there are two other deaths in which diabetes is a contributing cause. Since 1987, the death rate due to diabetes has increased by 45 percent, while the death rates due to cancer, heart disease, and stroke have declined.

Consider for a moment the economic burden on the health-care system. In 2006, 19,459 emergency room visits in Georgia were attributable to diabetes. They required urgent care and cost more than $3.2 million in medical-care charges. The cost of diabetes due to medical care, lost productivity, and premature death is estimated to be more than $5.1 billion per year.

While these statistics paint a dreary picture, there is so much that can be done to improve the situation. By simply watching for red flags and learning more about how to manage diabetes, we can take significant steps toward reversing these trends.

For example, approximately 60-70 percent of people with diabetes have mild to severe forms of nerve damage that could result in pain in the feet or hands, slowed digestion, sexual dysfunction and other nerve problems. This damage, which can often be detected by shooting pain or numbness, has led to an amputation rate for people with diabetes that is 10 times higher than for those without.

That is why it is so important to constantly watch out for shooting pain or numbness that usually occurs in the feet, legs or hands. At the same time, it is vital to regularly schedule visits and examinations with one's medical provider, regardless. At a recent Atlanta event hosted by the ADA, a survey taken among attendees indicated that 30 percent scored positive for DPN, a condition indicating nerve damage, even though they said that they did not have nerve pain.

Lastly, it is important that all Georgians, particularly those facing diabetes themselves, or within their family, learn more about living a healthy life and how to prevent complications.

National Diabetes Awareness Month is a wonderful opportunity to take time to learn more. Excellent resources can be found at the American Diabetes Association's web site -- www.diabetes.org -- by searching for "American Diabetes Month." In addition, the National Diabetes Educational Program (http://ndep.nih.gov/) offers extensive guidance for those who have diabetes, or who might be at risk.

On a more local level, here in Georgia, the Diabetes Association of Atlanta is hosting the 17th Annual Diabetes University on Nov. 13. The event will be a full day of over 30 informative diabetes workshops, vendors and products. More information can be found by visiting www.diabetesatlanta.org.

If we are ever going to make a difference, and stem the tide of diabetes-related complications, deaths and growing costs, we need to do everything we can to learn more about the condition, manage it if we are affected by it, and raise awareness in our communities. By taking such action, we can dramatically improve the quality of life for all Georgians.

John C. Riley is the Executive Director of the Georgia Diabetes Coalition, an organization that unifies partners across the state to do everything possible to improve care and reverse trends associated with diabetes, (www.georgiadiabetescoalition.org).