Diabetes - David Meets Goliath


Medical Author: Ruchi Mathur, M.D.
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel, Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

This month (June), the American Diabetes Association (ADA) holds its annual meeting. This meeting is always full of interesting new research. It is an opportunity for scientists from all over the world to present their most recent data to colleagues and a chance for leaders in the field to voice their opinions and concerns. The meeting also provides a wonderful venue to learn about the newest aspects of diabetes care and treatment. In light of this event, I thought this month would be a good time to acquaint you with some statistics about diabetes, a formidable opponent. I liken the challenge of conquering diabetes to the battle of David vs. Goliath. The next few paragraphs will demonstrate just how big Goliath (also known as diabetes) really is.

Each day in the United States, 2,200 people are diagnosed with diabetes. Recent data reveals that 6.5% of the U.S. population has diabetes. This amounts to over 13 million people, which represents an increase in the prevalence of this disease from 4.9% over the previous 8 years. This increase was observed across all ages, races, educational levels, weight levels, and throughout the United States. Over 5 million persons have the disease and do not know it.

The complications resulting from diabetes are significant causes of suffering and death. Diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness in people between the ages of 20 and 74 years. Each year in the United States, approximately 20,000 people lose their sight as a complication of diabetes. Diabetes is also the leading cause of kidney failure (approximately 30,000 patients per year) and is associated with nerve damage (neuropathy) and poor circulation. Both of these factors contribute to diabetes being the most common cause of non-traumatic lower limb amputations. The risk of leg amputation is up to 40 times greater in the diabetic population than in the non-diabetic population. More than 56,000 amputations are performed per year in the United States on patients with diabetes. Heart disease and stroke are also more prevalent in people with diabetes. This population is 2 to 4 times more likely to suffer heart disease and stroke than a comparable non-diabetic population.

From an economic perspective, the total annual cost of diabetes in 1997 was estimated to be 98 billion dollars in the United States. This includes 44 billion dollars in direct medical and treatment costs. The remaining costs were attributed to mortality and disability. An estimated 27.5 billion dollars was spent on in-patient hospital care and 5.5 billion went towards nursing home care. The per capita cost from diabetes in 1997 amounted to $10,071, as compared to a per capita health care cost of $2,699 for people without diabetes. During this same year, 13.9 million days of hospital stay were attributed to diabetes, while 30.3 million physician office visits were diabetes related. Remember that these numbers reflect only the population in the United States. Globally, the statistics are even more staggering.

Based on these facts, it is obvious that diabetes is a disease of Goliath proportions. We should look on with interest as the American Diabetes Association (ADA) members gather later this month. Their task is one of great concern to as individuals and members of a global community. In addition, I urge you to do your part to help conquer this disease. The ADA has fundraisers, walk-a-thons, charity drives, and a number of other painless ways you can help ease the burden of this disease. If you are interested, contact your local branch of the ADA. It's time Goliath met David. With awareness and participation, no matter how small, we can help ease the burden of this disease. Go David GO!