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Monday, November 29, 2010

Bronx Health: The High Cost of Undiagnosed Diabetes

Ed. note: This article appears in the latest edition of the Norwood News. November is Diabetes Awareness Month.

By Jeanmarie Evelly

When most people find out they have diabetes, it’s in their doctor’s office, following a routine physical exam that reveals their blood sugar is too high. But some people get the news in a more dire way — when they end up in the emergency room.

The Bronx has the highest rate of diabetes in the city, with 12 percent of people here diagnosed with the disease. Many more probably have it, but just don’t recognize the symptoms; the city’s health department estimates that some 200,000 New Yorkers are diabetic, but don’t know it.

November is Diabetes Awareness Month, and health advocates are stressing the importance of screenings in catching the disease early. Unregulated diabetes can cause a number of health problems, like blurred vision and fatigue, to more serious complications over longer periods of time, like heart disease, kidney failure, nerve and eye damage.

“What we would like to avoid are the patients who get hospitalized because their blood sugars are dangerously high,” said Dr. Rita Louard, medical director of clinical diabetes at Montefiore Medical Center.

“For many people, by the time they get the blood test that tells them they have diabetes, they already have the damage,” she said.

Diabetes and prediabetes -- a higher than normal blood sugar level that often preludes diabetes, if it goes untreated -- can both be diagnosed through one of several blood tests given by your physician. Anyone over the age of 45 should get tested for diabetes every three years or so, according to the American Diabetes Association.

People who fall into one of several high-risk categories, however, should get tested younger than the recommended age. These include the following factors:

• If you are overweight or obese
• If you are physically inactive
• If you suffer from high blood pressure or high cholesterol
• If you have a family history of diabetes
• If you belong to an ethnic or minority group at high risk for diabetes, including African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American, Native American and Pacific Islanders.

It’s also important to be on the lookout for symptoms of high blood sugar, says Dr. James Hellerman, director of endocrinology at St. Barnabas Hospital. This can mean extreme thirstiness, fatigue, frequent urination, numbness or pain in the feet and blurry vision.

But routine screening by your physician is the only way to know for sure, as many diabetics exhibit no symptoms, Hellerman says.

If the disease is caught early, many of the more serious health problems associated with it can be avoided with the help of medication, a healthy diet and exercise.

“If people are proactive in looking out for their health…it turns out better for everybody,” Hellerman said.


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