Diabetes continues to soar in the U.S., with no signs of slowing down.

By the CDC’s latest count:

—Nearly 21 million Americans have diabetes (7 percent of the U.S. population).

—More than 6 million of those people don’t know they have diabetes. (These numbers represent an increase of 2.6 million people with diabetes since 2002.)

—An estimated 41 million Americans have “prediabetes,” a condition that increases the risk of developing diabetes.

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Other findings include:

—Diabetes remains the No. 6 cause of death in the U.S.

—1.5 million new cases were diagnosed in people aged 20 and older in 2005.

—Middle-aged people (40-59s) led the new cases for adults in 2005.

The numbers appear in the CDC’s 2005 National Diabetes Fact Sheet.

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About Diabetes and Prediabetes

Most people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. Their bodies have trouble using insulin, a hormone that controls blood sugar. This is called insulin resistance.

In type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system destroys insulin-making cells in the pancreas.

In prediabetes, insulin isn’t properly controlling blood sugar, but the problem hasn’t yet lead to elevated blood sugar. Prediabetes raises the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

These conditions can be managed. People with type 2 diabetes and prediabetes can be treated with lifestyle change (such as eating habits and exercise) and/or medications.

Left untreated, elevated blood sugars can devastate the body over time. It can even be fatal.

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Age, Sex, and Diabetes

Diabetes is more common among older adults, men, and minorities, according to the CDC.

The CDC’s data on age and diabetes include:

—Nearly one in 10 adults aged 20 and older has diabetes. That’s more than 20 million people.

—The risk increases with age. More than one in five adults aged 60 and older has diabetes. That’s over 10 million people.

—About 176,500 people aged 20 or younger have diabetes. That’s less than 1% of people in that age group.

—About one in every 400 to 600 kids or teens has type 1 diabetes.

Nationally representative data on kids and teens with type 2 diabetes isn’t available from the CDC.

As for sex, more than 10 percent of men aged 20 and older have diabetes (nearly 11 million men). Almost 9 percent of women aged 20 and older have diabetes (nearly 10 million women).

Race and Diabetes

Diabetes is most common among some groups of American Indians and Alaska Natives. In addition, blacks are nearly twice as likely as whites to have diabetes, says the CDC.

Here are the percentages of people aged 20 and older with diabetes:

—American Indians in southern Arizona: 27.6 percent

—American Indians in the southern U.S.: 26.7 percent

—Blacks: 13.3 percent

—American Indians and Native Alaskans (overall): 12.8 percent

—Hispanics: 9.5 percent (based on data of Mexican-Americans)

—Non-Hispanic whites: 8.7 percent

—Native Alaskans: 8.1 percent

The total number of Asians and Pacific Islanders with diabetes isn’t available, and the CDC doesn’t have enough data on different Hispanic groups.

However, these patterns stood out for adults aged 20 and older:

—Pacific Islanders are more than twice as likely as whites to have diagnosed diabetes.

—Asians in California are 1.5 times as likely to have diagnosed diabetes as whites.

—Mexican-Americans (the largest group of Hispanics in the U.S.) are 1.7 times as likely to have diabetes as whites.

—Puerto Ricans are 1.8 times as likely as whites to have diabetes.

Life and Death Issues

Diabetes caused or contributed to nearly 250,000 deaths in 2002. The CDC got that figure from U.S. death certificates.

That’s probably an underestimation since diabetes isn’t always listed on death certificates, says the CDC.

“Overall, the risk for death among people with diabetes is about twice that of people without diabetes of similar age,” says the CDC.

The CDC’s new statistics on diabetes and health show:

—Heart disease kills people with diabetes. About two-thirds of people with diabetes die of heart disease or stroke.

—Stroke risk is two to four times higher for people with diabetes.

—Nearly three in four adults with diabetes have high blood pressure or take blood pressure drugs.

Diabetes is also the leading cause of kidney failure, new cases of blindness in adults aged 20-74, and nontraumatic amputations, says the CDC.

Sixty percent to 70 percent of people with diabetes have mild to severe forms of nerve damage — one of the most common and troublesome complications from the disease.

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Tending to Diabetes

If you have diabetes, follow your doctor’s instructions to monitor and control it.

Millions of people don’t know that they have diabetes, according to the CDC. The American Diabetes Association lists these possible symptoms:

—Frequent urination

—Excessive thirst

—Extreme hunger

—Unusual weight loss

—Increased fatigue

—Irritability

—Blurry vision

See your doctor for those issues and for any questions about your risk for diabetes or prediabetes.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: CDC, 2005 National Diabetes Fact Sheet. News release, CDC. American Diabetes Association: “Diabetes Symptoms.”