Ask a Health Care Professional: Diabetes

More than 30 million people in the United States have diabetes. Dr. Eugene Sun, vice president and chief medical officer for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico, discusses diabetes and the importance of managing the disease.
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EUGENE: SUN: Did you know that a little over 9 percent of Americans, or about 30 million people have diabetes and that in people age 65 and older that increases to almost 26%?  Hi, I’m Dr. Eugene Sun, Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico. Diabetes is a metabolic disease in which the body has high blood glucose levels (blood sugar), and it is a disease that can affect children and adults.


The American Diabetes Association estimates that over 240,000 people in New Mexico, or 14% of the population, have diabetes, and over 600,000 people have pre- diabetes. Pre-diabetes means they have blood glucose levels above normal, but not high enough to be considered diabetes.


There are two types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes, or insulin dependent diabetes, occurs when the body’s immune system destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. The cause is unknown. Insulin helps cells throughout the body use glucose in the blood to generate energy to function properly. Type 1 diabetes usually develops in children or young adults.


Type 2 diabetes or non-insulin dependent diabetes occurs when the body is not able to use the insulin produced by the pancreas effectively. It is commonly caused by a combination of being overweight and inadequate physical activity. In the past this disease occurred primarily in adults, but with increasing levels of obesity across the United States, it is occurring in children more frequently.


Over time, diabetes can cause damage to a number of organs in your body including the brain, eyes, heart, blood vessels, nerves, kidney, and others. Diabetic patients have a higher risk for stroke, blindness, heart attack, nerve damage and kidney failure. The risk of long term complications is higher for people with poorly controlled diabetes.


It’s important to understand that about 30% of the diabetics in this country have not been diagnosed. Your doctor can order a blood test called a fasting plasma glucose which is done first thing in the morning before you have eaten anything. A normal level is less than 100 mg/dl. Levels between 100 and 126 mg/dl indicate pre-diabetes, and levels 126 mg/dl and higher indicates diabetes.


Unfortunately there is no cure for either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, however, there are medications and steps one can take that can help to keep diabetes in control. People with type 1 diabetes must be treated with insulin. People with type 2 diabetes can help themselves by watching their diet, losing weight if they are overweight, and exercising more. If necessary, your doctor can prescribe medications, including insulin, to help control your blood glucose levels.


It’s very important to treat diabetes to keep the blood sugar as close to normal as possible.  Medical research has conclusively demonstrated that the better blood glucose is controlled over time, the lower the risk for organ damage and


complications over time. Stroke, kidney failure, heart attacks, and other complications are debilitating and can be fatal. It is important to know whether you have diabetes, and if you do, it is very important to work with your doctor to control it. With a combination of medications, diet, and exercise, you can lower your risk for serious complications!