Diabetes: Amid Rising Rates, New Drugs and Devices Offer Hope
While the incidence rates of diabetes are climbing, new therapies and technologies help patients better manage the condition.
The statistics surrounding diabetes can be overwhelming. About 10.5% of the adult population around the world has diabetes—that’s about 537 million people—and almost half of them are unaware that they have it, according to the International Diabetes Fund. Trends are expected to worsen. In about 20 years, IDF projects that 1 in 8 adults (783 million people) will live with diabetes.
Of the two types of diabetes—diabetes type 1 and diabetes type 2—the latter has seen the most drastic increases in prevalence. Type 2 diabetes has strong correlations with lifestyle habits, and this worldwide rise is due to an increase in obesity, decreases in physical activity, and an aging population.
Even amid these increases, there is a strong message of hope for those living with diabetes. With lifestyle changes and early detection, people can manage or even prevent type 2 diabetes. And with new therapies and technologies that have emerged over the past few years, people with both types of diabetes have more options for living better with the condition.
Of those who have diabetes, more than 90% have type 2 diabetes. With this type, the pancreas can usually produce enough insulin, but the body grows resistant to that insulin. The pancreas will work harder to produce more insulin, but the body’s insulin resistance will begin to wear the pancreas out. This results in hyperglycemia, when the sugar levels in the blood become too high.
The Most Common Form: Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is most commonly found in adults. In recent years, however, there have been more young people with type 2 diabetes, which is likely related to rising childhood obesity rates.
Because of its correlation with lifestyle habits, it is possible to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. People can reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Exercising regularly
- Eating a balanced, nutritious diet
- Not smoking
- Getting regular checkups from a healthcare provider
Symptoms slowly emerge, and some adults will have type 2 diabetes for up to 10 years without knowing it. Symptoms include:
- Frequent need to urinate
- Increased thirst and hunger
- Blurred vision
- Tingling in hands and feet
A Lifelong Condition: Type 1 Diabetes
Only 10% of people with diabetes have type 1. Type 1 diabetes has no correlation with lifestyle factors like weight or diet. With type 1, the body cannot produce enough insulin – or possibly does not produce any insulin at all. This means that people with type 1 diabetes must monitor their blood sugar levels regularly and get daily injections of insulin to maintain healthy blood glucose levels. Without these injections, type 1 diabetes can become life-threatening.
Symptoms of type 1 diabetes usually come on suddenly, and they include:
- Weight loss
- Excessive thirst, hunger
- Frequent urination
This type of diabetes cannot be prevented and, so far, has no cure. A person who has a family member with type 1 diabetes is more likely to have it, too.
Advances in Diabetes Research
While rates of diabetes have increased in recent decades, there have also been exciting advancements in research that will help people with diabetes live better. Over the past few years, new medications have emerged, helping people with type 2 diabetes manage their blood sugar better or manage their weight more effectively. Also, a new type of immune therapy drug has been shown to delay the onset of type 1 diabetes.
Advances in healthcare technology are also offering new hope for diabetes management. Devices like smart insulin pens with related smartphone apps allow people to manage their insulin deliveries and monitor their doses. Insulin pumps and glucose meters can also be connected to apps, giving patients and their healthcare providers regular updates.