Number of Americans with Untreated Diabetes on the Rise

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By : Suvarna Sheth

According to the Centers for Disease Control National Diabetes Statistics Report from 2017, 7.2 million or 23.8% of Americans have diabetes but are untreated.  They are either not aware or do not report having diabetes.

While a diabetes diagnosis may be alarming, it is a metabolic condition that can be treated with lifestyle changes with respect to exercise and diet.  What’s more, the condition can even be reversed.

If left undiagnosed or untreated, however, diabetes can result in metabolic melt-down.  Even poorly controlled diabetes can cause serious and problems.

Dr. Ping Wang, endocrinologist and Director, UC Irvine Health Diabetes Center, says that cardiovascular disease is the most common and severe complication of diabetes he comes across in his practice.

“80% of diabetes patients pass away due to cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke,” says Wang. “There will be an increased incidence of heart attack and stroke if diabetes is left uncontrolled.”

He explains there are other diabetes complications as well such as diabetic retinopathy, kidney damage, neuropathy, and more.  But out of all the complications, cardiovascular disease is the most common.

As far as the statistics from the CDC National Diabetes Statistics Report, Wang says part of the reason so many people are undiagnosed is that diabetes is not symptomatic.

“At least in initial stages, when the blood sugar is high, you don’t notice any symptoms,” he explains.  Even after people are treated, they feel better, other than feeling a little bit tired, they do not notice any other symptoms.”

Are Screening Guidelines Accurate?

Wang believes current screening guidelines are accurate, however, he says precautions could be more intense for people who have risk factors for developing diabetes.

Common risk factors include having a family history, being overweight, leading a sedentary lifestyle, or having gestational diabetes.

Wang sees a fair amount of his patients ignoring their diabetes diagnosis, just like many patients with high blood pressure and high cholesterol do.

He notes only 7% of patients actually have all three markers under control, (glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol).  “Single digit,” he emphasizes.

Again, because patients are not seeing an immediate impact of the disease, they are becoming laid back and more relaxed in terms of preventing the disease from progression.

Many times, people don’t realize the seriousness of complications that arise from not controlling their diabetes.  “Perhaps collectively, we as physicians are not doing a good enough job educating diabetic patients,” Wang suggests.

He says, in today’s environment, everything is fast-paced and physicians are too busy focusing on obtuse problems rather than chronic disease prevention.  “It’s the physician’s job to promote public awareness about diabetes and prevent people from getting diabetes,” he says.  “It’s a public health issue, it’s not a problem on an individual doctor or individual patient-level.

Wang says type 2 diabetes has some genetic component.  However, unlike type 1 diabetes, 50% of type 2 diabetes can be prevented just by paying attention to your lifestyle: controlling your weight, and by exercising.

As far as following popular diet trends, Wang suggests as long as you achieve your goal weight, then you have maximized your goal of preventing diabetes.

Americans need to realize diabetes has reached an epidemic stage in society, but there are ways it can be prevented further.   There are also very good treatments available for people suffering from diabetes that shouldn’t be ignored.  He urges all Americans to create a partnership with your healthcare provider to help you achieve your best life.