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Diabetes Health Center

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1 in 3 Americans at Risk for Diabetes

Many Have the Disease and Don't Know It
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 26, 2006 - As many as a third of American adults with type 2 diabetes don’t even know they have the disease, according to alarming new findings from the National Institutes of Health and the CDC.

Even more disheartening, one in three adults in the U.S. either has diabetes or a prediabetes condition known as impaired glucose tolerance.

That means that 73 million American have the disease or are on their way to getting it, says Catherine Cowie, PhD, of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

"We knew that there had been an increase in diagnosed cases [of type 2 diabetes]," Cowie tells WebMD. "The hope was that this rise would be counterbalanced by a decline in undiagnosed cases. But that is not what we are seeing."

Blacks, Hispanics Most at Risk

Cowie and colleagues analyzed data from a national survey collected between 1999 and 2002, and compared them to data collected between 1988 and 1994. Participants were asked if they had diabetes, and they were given fasting blood tests to confirm the diagnosis, identify new cases, and identify people with the prediabetes condition.

Among the survey’s main findings:

  • The prevalence of diagnosed diabetes among adults in the U.S. rose from 5.1% in the early survey to 6.5% in the most recent one.
  • The percentage of adults with undiagnosed diabetes remained fairly steady. A total of 2.7% of adults in the U.S. have the disease without knowing it.
  • Almost 1 in 4 U.S. adults aged 65 or over -- 22% of elderly Americans -- have diabetes.
  • Diabetes was twice as common in blacks and Mexican-Americans as it was in whites.

Type 2 diabetes accounts for about 95% of all diabetes cases, and virtually all undiagnosed cases of the disease. Obesity is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes; age, family history, and sedentary lifestyle also contribute to risk.

Diabetes is the most common cause of blindness, kidney failure, and amputations among adults in the U.S. It is also a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

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