It’s estimated that 70,000 Delawareans have diabetes. Almost a quarter of them are under the age of 20.
With diabetes being the sixth-leading cause of death in the state, it’s important to understand exactly what the disease is, and what preventive measures can be taken.
There are two types of diabetes and both are sometimes caused when the pancreas stops producing a hormone called insulin. The difference is that Type 1 diabetes usually occurs in children, while Type 2 generally surfaces during adulthood and typically stems from poor eating and exercise habits.
“The main focus with Type 2 diabetes has always been prevention,” says Lana Gordineer, president-elect of the Delaware Diabetes Coalition. “It’s easy to prevent Type 2 with regular exercise, diet and, of course, staying educated about it.”
Type 1 diabetes has always been considered incurable, so most research is focused on finding better treatment, says Gordineer, who is also a certified diabetes educator at Bayhealth Medical Center in Dover.
“Because Type 1 is believed to be caused by a self-attacking immune system, the search is to find out why that happens,” Gordineer says. “Once we understand that, the focus will become finding a way to stop it. Only then will we be able to find a permanent solution.”
But it’s not all bad news for diabetics. Research continues to uncover promising alternatives, although most are still in various stages of testing. One of these is the transplanting of pancreatic islets that naturally produce insulin. Another possibility is an artificial pancreas—a machine that will generate and pump insulin into the body without medication.
While development of these treatments may be years away, it shows that, like any “terminal” illness, there’s always hope for a cure. —Andrew Gula