At the age of 10 a doctor told Russell Larvadain he would have to give himself shots for the rest of his life.
The week before his diagnosis Larvadain, 22, a fifth-year business student from Bloomfield Hills, Mich., experienced fatigue, dizziness, blurred vision, dry mouth and lost 10 pounds, all signs of diabetes.
Later that week he was in so much pain he could not get out of bed. He was also very thirsty. His mother tried to give him water, but he threw it up. She tried to give him more water. He threw up again. After several tests, the doctor found sugar in his urine.
After a week in the hospital Larvadain was told that in addition to the shots, he would have to take nutrition and diabetes management classes, measure his blood sugar, change his diet and monitor how frequently he eats.
Now he takes insulin shots before breakfast and at dinner.
“I know when I need to eat or test my blood sugar because I’ll get a headache and an anxious feeling,” Larvadain said.
According to the American Diabetes Association Web site 17 million people in the United States have diabetes, but one-third don’t know it, making it the fifth deadliest disease.
Up to 10 percent of those with diabetes, including Larvadain, have Type I, which is commonly diagnosed during childhood or adolescence.
Diabetes disproportionately kills blacks compared to other ethnic groups.
Almost 14 percent of blacks have diabetes. Again one-third don’t know.
Blacks are twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes and four times as likely to experience serious complications like heart disease, blindness, amputation and kidney failure.
At least one million people 20 years and younger will be diagnosed this year.
According to Dawn Smith, education program coordinator at Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare Diabetes Center, young people are being diagnosed with both Type I and Type II diabetes.
“This is alarming because 25 years ago, we hardly ever saw children with Type II diabetes,” Smith said.
“Now, because children are more sedentary, food choices are poorer in addition to a family history of diabetes, we have diagnosed children as young as two years old.”
Both types of diabetes carry the same amount of risk and have the same symptoms but affect the body’s insulin levels differently.
Type I occurs when the pancreas stops making insulin and causes blood sugar to increase quickly.
Type II occurs when the pancreas makes insulin but the body is resistant.
There is no way to prevent Type I diabetes, but it can be diagnosed quickly because the affected person will immediately become sick the way Larvadain did with fatigue, weight loss, blurred vision and dehydration, Smith said.
An affected person may also go to the bathroom several times a night and develop sores that take longer than usual to heal. Smith said to manage Type I diabetes, the person immediately becomes insulin dependent for the rest of his or her life.
Type II is the result of poor diet, lack of exercise, genetic predisposition or being overweight. This type is managed with a balanced diet, exercise, or medication that makes the body less resistant to insulin.
Fat is insulin resistant making it harder for the body to control blood sugar levels.
“Most people diagnosed with Type II diabetes have had high blood sugar levels for years and find out they are diabetic when the come in to get tested for something else,” Smith said.
“Young people really need to keep track of their cholesterol and make sure their blood sugar level is below 110,” Smith said. “Diabetes is getting younger and it doesn’t look like it’s going to end.”