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The Hidden Epidemic: Diabetes

Could you or someone you love have diabetes? What you need to know about this often symptomless disease.
A Symptomless Disease

It's likely you already know someone with diabetes, especially when you consider that nearly 9% of women have it and the risk keeps rising with age. Shockingly, a third of those with the disease don't even know it.

Five years ago, when Esther Vega, 51, of Dover, New Jersey, began feeling habitually thirsty, she blamed her salty diet. She chalked up her exhaustion to the fact that she worked on her feet all day at a manufacturing plant. And when her nighttime trips to the bathroom became frequent, she figured it was all the water she was drinking. She never realized these three symptoms were typical of type 2 diabetes. But at her annual physical a few months later, a routine blood test found that her blood sugar level was through the roof. (Normal is less than 100 milligrams per deciliter, between 100 and 200 may signify prediabetes, and 200 mg/dL or more suggests type 1 or 2 diabetes.)

About 21 million Americans have type 2 diabetes, which is often symptomless. The majority of people have it for at least seven years before being diagnosed. And the number of sufferers is expected to grow—mainly because obesity, a major contributor to the diabetes epidemic, is on the rise. Approximately 127 million Americans, about 65% of all adults, are overweight or obese. (Overweight is defined as having a body mass index—a person's weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared—of over 25. A BMI of 30 and over is considered obese.)