October 23, 2002 – Diabetes: uncovering the silent epidemic 

Diabetes: uncovering the silent epidemic

(Editor's note: November is national "Diabetes Month." Take time to learn how to detect, treat and prevent diabetes.)

K nown as the silent killer, diabetes can never be cured, but it can be managed. The challenge is making people aware they have the disease and then ensuring they receive proper treatment for this slowly progressive condition.

“A third of people with diabetes aren’t aware they have it,” said Dr. Alberto Colombi, PPG’s corporate medical director. A recent quality-based evaluation by the Pittsburgh Regional Healthcare Initiative, of which PPG is a member, also determined that less than half of all diabetic patients are receiving appropriate screenings for this disease, such as tests of the eyes, feet and kidneys. As a result, the Pennsylvania Cost Containment Council found that people end up in the hospital with very serious and costly outcomes, such as amputations, end-stage renal disease and cardiovascular complications, Colombi said.

Diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t produce or properly use insulin, which is needed to convert sugar, starches and other foods into the body’s fuel. Type 1 diabetes, occurring most often in children and young adults, is when the body does not produce any insulin. Type 2 diabetes, which accounts for 90 to 95 percent of diabetic cases, is when the body can’t produce enough insulin or uses improperly what it does produce.

“Science has yet to discover the cause of diabetes, but we know that being overweight and inactive plays a role in the onset of Type 2 diabetes,” Colombi said. “Right now, we’re seeing an alarming increase in this form of diabetes, and it’s occurring at younger ages. Exercise and good nutrition are ways to prevent the onset of the disease.”

Besides being overweight and sedentary, other risk factors for developing Type 2 diabetes include being 45 or older, having a family history of diabetes, having low HDL cholesterol or high triglycerides and, for women, having gestational diabetes during pregnancy or having a baby weighing more than 9 pounds. In addition, Type 2 diabetes is more common among African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Americans.

According to the American Diabetes Association, the warning signs of diabetes include frequent urination, unusual thirst, extreme hunger, unusual weight loss, extreme fatigue and irritability. Additional signs of Type 2 diabetes include frequent infections, blurred vision, cuts and bruises that are slow to heal, tingling and numbness in the hands or feet and recurring skin, gum or bladder infections.

“Most people only find out they have diabetes when they are treated for one of its many complications, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, eye problems and kidney disease,” Colombi said. “An individual should be tested for diabetes every three years starting at age 45. But if you have any of the risk factors, you should be tested at a longer age and more frequently. By detecting and treating the disease early, we can reduce and perhaps avoid its potentially fatal complications.”

According to a recent The Wall Street Journal article, a new strategy in managing diabetes and its complications is giving patients access to personal nurses. Through visits and phone calls, the nurse ensures the patient is aware of symptoms and follows the appropriate course of treatment. This approach not only improves patient health, it also significantly reduces the cost of care. A study published in the June 2002 issue of Managed Care showed that a $49,428 program saved $214,486.

“PPG is working with insurance companies and health care providers to make sure our employees are receiving the medical attention and preventive services they deserve when it comes to diabetes,” said Colombi.

“In turn, we ask employees to take preventive action through a healthy diet and exercise. If they are diabetic, they also need to become educated about and active in their treatment to avoid complications that can negatively impact their health and wallets.”

(The American Diabetes Association outlines steps to prevent and control diabetes, and to prevent or delay the onset of diabetes-related complications. For details, visit http://www.diabetes.org/.)

Click here to learn more about cardiovascular health, diabetes, muscle and bone health, depression and women's health.

‘It’s not a diet; it’s a lifestyle’

His father had inoperable lung cancer and a history of heart disease before dying of a heart attack at age 58. His father-in-law struggles daily with diabetes. PPG’s Siegel Fetty weighed 261 pounds and knew he was headed for problems with heart disease or diabetes.

This past January, he decided to do something about it.

“I was tired of being fat and didn’t like looking in the mirror. All you read about in the newspaper these days is how obesity brings on diabetes and heart disease. I wanted no parts of that,” said the 6’1” Fetty, a pipe fitter at PPG’s Natrium, W. Va., chemicals plant. “My wife convinced me to see a doctor.”

During a mid-January visit to the doctor, Fetty was diagnosed with a crippling form of arthritis. “The doc said the best thing I could do was to lose weight,” said Fetty, who immediately dedicated himself to a healthy lifestyle and joined a nationwide weight-loss program. “It’s not a diet,” he stressed. “It’s an entirely new lifestyle for me. I know one thing: I’ll never go back. My health is way too important to me now.”

Today, Fetty weighs 183 pounds, 78 pounds less than he did in January.

“I account for everything I eat. I’ve cut out all white sugar and fried foods. I drink at least 40 ounces of water daily and I’ve learned to control the size of my food portions,” he said. “I’ve found you really can eat anything, but you must stay within a certain calorie count for the day.”

Fetty combines his improved eating habits with regular exercise. “I walk 2 to 3 miles a day (five days a week), mostly here at the plant during lunchtime,” said Fetty, adding that his arthritis is in remission.

“My advice to people is don’t let your health be the reason you decide to lose weight. If that happens, you’ve already done some major damage to yourself. If you know you need to lose weight, do it now. If you wait too long, it might be too late.”

Did you know?
Facts About Diabetes

U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services

Healthfinder—links to more
than 1,800 health-related organizations