LAS CRUCES -- New Mexicans have a high incidence of diabetes, but residents still aren't taking steps to find out if they have the disease, said a New Mexico State University dietitian.
Nationally, more than 16 million people have diabetes, but half of them are unaware of it. In New Mexico, more than 100,000 people -- 6.5 percent of the state's population -- have this debilitating disease, said Wanda Morgan, a member of the American Diabetes Association.
Many people don't realize they have diabetes because the symptoms are hard to identify, Morgan said.
"The major symptoms that people know about are thirst, fatigue and frequent urination," she said. "We live here in the desert, so being thirsty is considered a common consequence of just being in a hot climate."
People most at risk for having diabetes include:
About 95 percent of the people with diabetes have noninsulin-dependent or type II, which occurs in adults 35 and older, Morgan said. The pancreas produces some insulin, but the body is unable to use it properly. This causes glucose to build up in the blood, leading to high blood glucose or blood sugar levels.
Fewer people have insulin-dependent or type I diabetes, which occurs in early childhood, she said. The pancreas doesn't produce insulin to meet the body's needs, and insulin injections allow the body to use glucose, which the body produces from foods for energy.
A regular medical check up will not reveal the disease, she said. A blood test must be taken for a proper diagnosis.
People can have diabetes for 10 or 20 years without knowing it, she said.
If the disease is not treated, life-threatening complications can develop.
"Diabetes is the number one cause of blindness in adults," Morgan said. "It also affects kidney function. About half of the people who are on dialysis here in New Mexico are individuals with diabetes. It increases your risk for heart disease -- about 15 times greater. Diabetes also causes nerve damage, which can lead to amputation."
Complications of diabetes can be substantially reduced with appropriated diet, regular exercise and regular blood sugar monitoring, she said. In some cases, people need medicine or insulin to control their illness.
For more information about diabetes, call the American Diabetes Association's New Mexico affiliate at 1-800-DIABETES.