Actress Mary Tyler Moore battles it. Country singer Mark Collie has it. Rhythm and blues singer Pattie LaBelle was diagnosed with it recently.
Celebrities like Moore, Collie and LaBelle are just three well-known faces amid the 16 million Americans suffering from diabetes mellitus, a chronic disease in which the pancreas produces too little or no insulin, impairing the body's ability to turn sugar into usable energy.
Sometimes, living with diabetes can seem like a full-time job -- trying to keep up with everything you need to do for proper diabetes care.
"Diabetes is a very time-consuming disease to manage well," says Karmeen Kulkarni, MS, RD, CDE, and former president of health care and education for the American Diabetes Association. "The medication, the food, the physical activity -- you add life in general to that whole picture and it ends up being quite challenging."
In recent years, the Food and Drug Administration has approved a fast-acting form of human insulin and several new oral diabetes drugs, including the most recent, Rezulin (troglitazone), the first of a new class of drugs called insulin sensitizers. This drug is designed to help Type II diabetics make better use of the insulin produced by their bodies and could help as many as 1 million Type II diabetics reduce or eliminate their need for insulin injections.
While it is treatable, diabetes is still a killer. The fourth leading cause of death in America, diabetes claims an estimated 178,000 lives each year. So the treatment is aimed at holding the disease in check, reversing it where possible, and preventing complications.
Philip Cryer, M.D., a professor at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and president of the American Diabetes Association, believes that most people simply don't understand the magnitude of the diabetes problem. "Diabetes is an increasingly common, potentially devastating, treatable yet incurable, lifelong disease. It's the leading cause of blindness in working-age adults, the most common cause of kidney failure leading to dialysis or transplants, and is a leading cause of amputation," he says. "The most recent estimate we have of diabetes' cost (in terms of) direct medical care is $90 billion dollars annually -- more than heart disease, cancer, or AIDS."
At the heart of diabetes control are dietary management and drug treatment. The increasing emphasis on the importance of a healthy diet, the availability of glucose monitoring devices that can help diabetics keep a close watch over blood sugar levels, and the wide range of drug treatments enable most diabetics to live a near-normal life.
Managing the diet is easier now because of food labeling regulations that went into effect in 1994.