Diabetes: "Silent Epidemic" Among Veterans
ANNAPOLIS, Md. - The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has called diabetes a "silent epidemic" affecting those who have served in the military, and is dedicating resources to better management of the disease. Type 2 diabetes affects almost 20 percent of veterans who use VA health care, compared to about 8 percent of the general population.
According to Dr. Timothy O'Leary, the acting director at the Office of Research and Development at the VA, diabetes is the leading cause of blindness, kidney disease and amputation on the U.S., and up to 80 percent of patients with diabetes will face heart attack or stroke.
"While diabetes is silent as it initially presents, and needs a blood test or a urine test, its consequences are not silent at all," he warned.
O'Leary said group meetings are proving to be a successful method to help people keep blood sugar controlled. The VA has also found that having veterans use pedometers encourages more physical activity, which can help keep diabetes under control.
Most research shows that successful management of the disease isn't something people do alone, with O'Leary pointing to video-conferencing as another tool that has helped reduce the rate of physical disabilities.
"Sometimes even (when it is) delivered through the computer or the telephone by a counselor far away, which can be important if you live in a rural area or you have transportation problems," the doctor said.
March 25 is American Diabetes Association Alert Day, where everyone is encouraged to take a risk assessment online. Known risk factors for diabetes include a family history, being overweight, being over the age of 40, suffering diabetes during pregnancy, and a lack of physical activity.
O'Leary cautioned, though, that the disease shows up in people without those risk factors, too, and there has been research indicating that exposure to environmental toxins can also trigger the disease.
That online diabetes risk-assessment tool is at Diabetes.org.