Health Team

'It can eat you alive': Doctors warn of dangers of Type 2 diabetes

Posted February 24, 2015
Updated February 25, 2015

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— Many people think Type 2 diabetes is something that happens to somebody else. But according to a major study in The Lancet, a UK medical journal, Hispanics and blacks have more than a 50 percent chance of developing diabetes in their lifetime. Black women have the highest risk at 55 percent. Whites have between a 34 to 37 percent lifetime risk.

With those numbers in mind, WRAL Health Team physician Dr. Allen Mask created a diabetes quiz and asked people in the community how much they know about the dangerous disease. Many people knew someone in their family who had diabetes, but they didn’t know much about the disease.

WRAL Health Team QUIZ: Test your diabetes knowledge

“I might not know too much about it, but if I start having symptoms, I will look on the Internet,” said Lena Chavis.

About 29 million Americans have diabetes. Another 8 million have it but don't know it. Many more – an estimated 86 million people in the U.S. – are at high risk with pre-diabetes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It's pretty much the norm now once 30 to 50 percent of the population gets the disease in their lifetime,” said Dr. John Buse, chief of UNC's department of endocrinology.

With Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not make any insulin, the hormone required to push sugar into the cells. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder, where the immune system attacks the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.  It represents 5 to 10 percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes and is typically diagnosed in children, teens and young adults. The cause is not clearly understood, but it's believed that a genetic component, viruses and environmental factors may be involved.

With Type 2 diabetes, genetics only increases the risk. An unhealthy diet and an inactive lifestyle can help push people over the edge.

“Type 2 diabetes is much more complicated. Related to obesity, the insulin doesn't work as well,” Buse said. “Early in the course of the disease, diabetes is totally asymptomatic. People don't have a clue.”

The symptoms of Type 2 diabetes include frequent urination, extreme thirst, hunger and fatigue, according to the American Diabetes Association. Those symptoms mean that the disease is already hurting a person’s body, placing him or her at higher risk for life-threatening problems.

The most common complication of diabetes is early death related to heart attack and stroke. It can also lead to vision loss and blindness, kidney disease and amputation. None of that has to happen if people are diagnosed early.

“If you don't make the diagnosis, you can't get the treatment,” Buse said. “And if you don't get the treatment, you know, this is what we call metabolic cancer. It can eat you alive.”

So which test helps diagnose Type 2 diabetes? An oral glucose tolerance test, fasting glucose test, hemoglobin A1c and random blood sugar test can all help.  

Mask suggests people get their blood sugar checked, even children, and especially those who are obese or have a family history of the disease.


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  • David Collins Feb 25, 2015
    user avatar

    Diabetes is a bummer to have but not the end of the world. I have had type 2 diabetes for 17+ years and currently on insulin. If you have a family history, please get tested. You can avoid most or all complications of Diabetes just by eating a proper diet and staying active and seeing your doctor regularly.

  • Roy Hinkley Feb 25, 2015
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Race card, are you serious? They were presenting medical information and specifically noting the demographics that are at the highest risk. It's not called a race card, it's called targeted messaging.

  • Matt Price Feb 25, 2015
    user avatar

    SO according to Dr Mass, White males in their 40's, like me don't have a chance in hell to get it.

    Very interesting race card they attempted to tie to diabetes. No mention of American Indians, etc.

  • Sarcoi Dosis Feb 24, 2015
    user avatar

    I'm quite diabetic and had a pacemaker put in at age 44. So far my kidneys are ok, but my sight is at the very early stages of diabetic damage.
    In my case it's genetic. My cells do not respond well to insulin, so they don't know when to "turn on" to use up the glucose in my blood. I produce insulin of my own, and supplement with 5 shots of insulin daily. Doctor said I'm extremely Insulin resistant.
    If you can avoid diabetes with diet and exercise, Please do it!!! The alternative, and poor quality of life is quite horrible.
    It's not always what you eat.. When first diagnosed, I went to the gym 7 days a week, and was involved with Boxing, and Martial arts. I ate a super strict diet that was high in protein with little fat and no carbs. Imagine my surprise when the doctor told me I was diabetic.