By Josette Keelor
One of the most prevalent, misunderstood and deadly diseases in the U.S. is also one of the most treatable.
Diabetes remains the seventh leading cause of death since last reported in 2010 on the American Diabetes Association's website, www.diabetes.org, but area experts say it's one of the most manageable and preventable diseases.
Diabetes affects one in 11 Americans, according to a June 10 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 2010, it's grown by 3 million.
It's a scary diagnosis that has no cure, but according Nance Lovelace, a physician and doctor of osteopathic medicine at New Market Family Health Center, education helps fight the battle.
"When you don't know what's going on, that's frightening," she said. "The more you know, the more confident you are."
"We provide knowledge and support," she said.
Type 2 diabetes affects 95 percent of those diagnosed and is easier to manage than Type 1, which typically presents in childhood but can develop at any age.
The difference, according to Lovelace, is in insulin production.
Type 1 is an autoimmune disorder, meaning the body attacks its own beta cells and prevents the pancreas from making insulin. "You can't live without insulin, so they have to inject it," Lovelace said.
The disease's rapid onset causes what she called "a day that goes down in infamy."
Jackie Solenberger's day was July 25, 2008. She was 15, preparing for 10th grade at Faith Christian Academy in Martinsburg, West Virginia.
Now 21, the Winchester resident manages her diabetes through daily insulin shots, blood sugar testing and meticulous carbohydrate counting. Treatment depends on a person's size and activity level.
"For every 15 carbs I eat, I'm supposed to take one unit of insulin," she said. A can of Coke has enough carbs to equal a meal. Her doctor told her she can drink diet soda, but Solenberger said she sticks to water.
Learning she was diabetic, "It was definitely a shock," she said.
"I didn't know anything about diabetes and I probably still wouldn't ... if I wouldn't have got diagnosed."
A diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes requires immediate action, but Lovelace called Type 2 "insidious."
"It kind of sneaks up on a person," she said.
People can live for years with diabetes and never know it because its symptoms -- fatigue, insatiable thirst and frequent nighttime urination -- are easy to rationalize.
"Some people mistake it for depression," Lovelace said.
Their bodies still make insulin and they might not need to control their blood sugar levels. In early stages, blood work can come back normal.
"Really, they can continue to do nothing about it," she said. But doing nothing means risking worse symptoms later, like blurred vision, insulin dependence and, in severe cases, amputation.
A Type 2 diagnosis also means a greater risk of heart attack, stroke and cancer, because she said it's likely patients have been living with unrealized symptoms for 10 years.
The CDCP estimates up to a quarter of the 29 million Americans affected by diabetes have not been diagnosed yet.
Diagnosed last year, Dawn Woodrum, 49, of Winchester said she was in denial at first.
Two years earlier she had shown signs of insulin resistance and when pregnant with twins 14 years ago she had gestational diabetes. But she had no family history of diabetes, so ignoring her symptoms was easy.
She was tired because she worked nights as a nurse at Warren County Memorial Hospital, but she later learned her muscles were also working overtime to keep her body running on sparse amounts of necessary glucose.
After a hemoglobin test last fall returned a result of 8, almost twice that of a typical diabetes diagnosis, she started seeing an endocrinologist and taking classes at the hospital.
"I think we have such a jewel here with this program," she said.
In Winchester, Valley Health's Diabetes Management Program includes tips on exercising safely and efficiently, said health fitness specialist Julie Morning, who works at Winchester Medical Center's Wellness and Fitness Center.
During 15 meetings over eight weeks, patients start an exercise program, receive literature on diabetes and learn from nutritionists.
Woodrum's routine includes cardio, Pilates and yoga, which she enjoys because it helps keep things new. She cut out processed foods and now chooses more lean meats and plant-based foods. She also replaced sugar for Stevia in her coffee.
"I just had to not be in denial and decide, "Okay, I'm diabetic, I need to do something about it."
Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org