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The Diabetes Epidemic is Creating a Tsunami

I have been taking care of patients with diabetes for many years and have been able to see how this disease has intensified, especially here in the Bronx. Type 2 diabetes is now much more common; it is affecting younger people and causing damage to important organs such as the liver and the heart. It can cause much harm without people feeling sick, but when diagnosed, it can be treated.

When it isn't diagnosed or treated, it causes complications such as blindness, strokes, kidney failure, heart disease and amputations –often a loss of a foot or leg. Patients with complications aren't able to maintain a good quality of life, they become disabled and they become a burden for their entire family and the community.

I see many patients who are in this situation. One example is Dulce, a 40-year-old, single mother with poorly treated type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. She was diagnosed at age 18, but never took her disease seriously and did not follow her doctors' recommendations. She was on welfare and had Medicaid , so she was able to see doctors and get her medications at a low cost.

She ultimately developed complications, starting with an infection in her foot that caused her to lose her left leg, and then her kidneys began to fail to the point that she needed dialysis. During the past two years, she had a stroke, lost vision of her right eye and was then hospitalized with chest pains. She had a heart attack and had to have heart surgery.

Diabetes and hypertension can be treated – why didn't she follow the medical recommendations? Unfortunately, this young patient is not a rare example. If cases like this continue, we will have a disaster in our society – what I call a tsunami effect on our health care system, society and our country.

Fortunately, the majority of patients with diabetes do well – they are diagnosed and treated early to prevent complications. These patients are "in charge of their disease," they know how the medications work, and make sure that their blood sugars, cholesterol and blood pressure are normal. They live a happy and productive life, and it is patients like these who encourage me and many other healthcare professionals to care for them every day! 

Joel Zonszein, MD, is director of the Clinical Diabetes Center – Weiler. He also is professor of clinical medicine, Department of Medicine and Division of Endocrinology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Posted by blogmoderator on 10/31/2013 at 10:23 AM Add Comment