Your body can be suffering under the strain of diabetes for many years, even to the point of breaking down, and you might not even realize it until it's too late.
Diabetes has been diagnosed in approximately 2,000 Harlan County residents, with nearly 1,000 more suffering from an undiagnosed diabetic condition.
Harlan County ranks fourth in Kentucky for hospitalizations related to diabetes. Currently, local physicians refer over 20 patients per month for special diabetic consults with registered dieticians in the area.
Diabetes is now even listed as a primary cause of death for many in Harlan County. Diabetes and diabetes-related complications were the fifth-leading cause of death in Harlan County in 1997 and there has been an increase in the incidence of the disease since then, especially among children.
In an effort to address some of the problems associated with diabetes in Harlan County, Harlan ARH sponsors a monthly informational support group organized by Shirley Huff, LPN.
Diabetes is not like a cold or flu, she said. You can't catch it from anyone. It is a chronic metabolic disease that has no cure. It is not known exactly why people get diabetes. Some people are born with the tendency to get diabetes. Being overweight can also help cause it, she noted, while in other people, normally the very young, it may be caused when the body mistakes insulin-producing cells in the pancreas to be germs.
Diabetes has been proven to cause impaired vision and sometimes blindness, kidney failure, increased risk for a heart attack, stroke, nerve damage, loss of extremities due to poor circulation, and dental problems.
The only effective treatment is effective management, and that's what the diabetic support group and information program is all about, Huff said.
Each month, a medical specialist (physician, dietician, pharmacist, etc.) provides a brief informational program and takes questions from the group, which numbers now more than 30 regular members, she said.
This year, the hospital initiated a program in collaboration with the county school system to combat a startling increase in Type 2 diabetes among children in the area.
"One of the main activities coming up this next year is to increase our efforts to improve diabetes education in the public school system," Huff said. "We have got to get kids more involved and active."
The support group will be holding a special children's diabetes program in July that will feature giveaways of boy and girl's bicycles to young diabetic patients. Huff and some of her colleagues at the hospital raised the money to purchase the bikes.
Local physicians have been very supportive of the group, she noted, referring their patients and concerned family members to the regularly scheduled meetings. Many have come to rely on this program as a means of providing supplemental information so patients and family members can more effectively manage their condition, she added.
Diabetes is best treated by prevention, Huff commented. Their monthly informational programs help increase awareness of the disease and improve prevention for the average person by making the subject a normal part everyday life.
But if you look at the numbers involved, diabetes is pretty much a "normal" part of everyday life right now, Huff noted.
Nationwide, there are 15.7 million people in the U.S., or 5.9 percent of the national population, who have diabetes. Right here in Harlan County, from 1997 to 1999, an estimated 1,849 adults, or 7.3 percent of the local population, were diagnosed with the disease. If you add to that local number approximately 924 individuals who had undiagnosed diabetes, that results in 2,773 Harlan County residents, or nearly one out of 10, with diabetes.
And the consequences of such a high number of diabetic cases can be serious, even fatal for many.
For example, from 1994 to 1999, diabetes was responsible for 21 new cases and 44 existing cases of end-stage renal disease (dialysis-dependent) among patients in Harlan County, that's nearly 1 percent (0.8 percent) of the total for all of Kentucky. The average Medicare cost for treating kidney failure in persons with diabetes is approximately $50,000 per year.