Diabetes and the Supreme Court Nominee

Published May 26, 2009

| Associated Press

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor was diagnosed at age 8 with Type 1 diabetes, an incurable condition but one that the White House concluded, after talking with her doctor, that she has under good control.

To survive, people with Type 1 diabetes must inject themselves with insulin numerous times a day, or use a pump that infuses it. Insulin is the hormone that regulates blood sugar, converting it to energy. With Type 1 diabetes — once called juvenile diabetes because it usually is diagnosed in children or young adults — the body mistakenly attacks and destroys the pancreas cells that produce insulin.

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The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation estimates that 3 million Americans have Type 1 diabetes, a fraction of the nearly 24 million who have some form of diabetes. Much more common is Type 2 diabetes, often linked to obesity, where the body no longer uses insulin properly.

While treatment has significantly improved survival in recent decades, diabetes remains a leading cause of death. That's largely because high blood sugar is so damaging to blood vessels, leading to heart attacks and kidney disease, among other complications.

Research shows people who tightly control their diabetes suffer fewer complications. Still, the government says the risk of death among diabetics is about twice that of similarly aged people who don't have diabetes.

As part of its vetting process, White House officials talked with Sotomayor about her diabetes and consulted her doctors and others before concluding she's in good health and can serve for many years.

"In the days leading up to this nomination, there were several media reports suggesting that Judge Sotomayor should not be considered for this position simply because she has Type 1 diabetes," said Dr. R. Paul Robertson of the American Diabetes Association. "The advancements in the management of Type 1 diabetes have been just amazing over the last two decades and the ability of people to manage their diabetes successfully has been proven. People with diabetes can function and live a long and healthy life."

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