Learning More About Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes or insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) is a chronic condition characterized by low levels or no production of insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas and insulin's job is to transport sugar or glucose into the body's cells. Glucose is the primary source of energy for the cells. In type 1 diabetes an individual's immune system attacks and destroys its own insulin producing cells resulting in little or no insulin levels and subsequent increases in blood glucose levels. Type 1 diabetes can develop at any age but many cases appear in childhood or late adolescence.

The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown but possible causative factors include immune problems, exposures to certain viruses, and genetics. It is known that having a parent or sibling with type 1 diabetes increases an individual's risk of also developing the disease. The genetics of type 1 diabetes is complex with research suggesting at least 20 different gene regions associated with the condition. A current research program at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) is focusing on identifying specific genes that may predispose one to developing the disease and how these genes operate.

A recent publication from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) revealed some dramatic estimates on the incidence, prevalence, complications, and costs of diabetes.  This study indicated that 6.3% or 18.2 million people in the United States have type 1 diabetes.  Prevalence rates in people aged 20 and older, grouped by ethnicity revealed that non-Hispanic whites had a prevalence rate of 8.4%, non-Hispanic blacks at 11.4%, Hispanic-Latino Americans at 8.2%, and American Indians/Native Alaskans have a prevalence of 14.9%.  In 2000, diabetes was the 6th leading cause of death in the country. Additional health complications of diabetes are extensive and include heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, blindness, and kidney disease.  The estimated medical costs and costs due to disability / work loss totaled $132 million per year.

While research is on-going, type 1 diabetes has no cure; however, significant improvements have been made in disease management and treatments. With diligent care, individuals are living longer, healthier lives.

The Greenwood Genetic Center's annual Summer Genetics Lecture Series in June will focus on Type 1 diabetes, emphasizing current research, clinical trials, and possible future means of prevention. Sandra Weber, MD, endocrinologist from Greenville Memorial Hospital, will speak on "Natural History of Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus". This talk is open to the public at no charge and we invite you to attend. Please look for additional information in the newspaper or call the GGC for date, time, and location.