More than 18 million Americans have diabetes. That's the bad news.
The even worse news is that more than 13 million of them are destined to suffer from heart disease, too.
"Seventy-five percent of diabetics die of heart disease or stroke," says Dr. Taylor Williams, a Providence cardiologist with Columbia Cardiology Consultants.
"There are other complications that are associated with diabetes – like kidney problems and sores that won't heal – but the thing that is most lethal to diabetics is cardiovascular disease.
"Diabetes actually accelerates the growth of atherosclerosis – the fatty buildup in the arteries – because it alters the lipoproteins or lipids in the blood that we hear about when we have our cholesterol checked," according to Dr. Williams.
"Another problem is that the high sugar levels in the blood of a diabetic have been shown to alter the way the linings of the blood vessels work, which promotes clotting in the blood vessels," he explained.
"That's significant, because clots in the blood vessels that supply the heart cause a heart attack, and clots in the blood vessels that supply the brain cause a stroke."
Diabetes is a disease in which the body fails to produce insulin (Type 1 diabetes) or fails to utilize insulin properly (the far more common Type 2 diabetes). Insulin is a hormone the body needs in order to convert sugars, starches and other foods into the energy we need for life.
One of the most frightening aspects of diabetes is that as many as 5 million people with the disease don't know they have it.
That was the case with Ann Epting of Lexington, a remarkably active and vibrant person who had a family history of diabetes but never suspected she had it, too. "One day they were offering screenings for diabetes and heart disease at work, so I decided I'd take advantage of it.
"Before the tests, they told me I'd get a letter with the results in two weeks, but they sent me a letter the next day telling me to go immediately to the doctor. My numbers were that bad. My sugar levels were so high, and my triglycerides were so high, I was just a walking wreck. But the surprising thing was, I felt fine."
Ann's doctor sent her for diabetes and nutrition counseling at Providence, where she learned that the disease cannot be cured, but it certainly can be managed.
"I was in a state of panic, of course, but after I met with my counselors – Jenny Ard and Kay MacInnis – I felt better," says Ann.
"Along with my doctor, I owe those two women my life. They explained everything to me, told me what was happening inside my body, showed me how to check my blood sugar every day, and told me what I had to do to get my diabetes under control.
"They told me that if you don't control your diabetes, it'll control you. It's really just making a commitment to a healthy lifestyle, and it's for the rest of your life. They told me it's OK to have a piece of cake when one of my grandchildren has a birthday – just not to have three pieces of cake and not to do it every day.
"In fact, I can have just about anything I want. I just have to be sensible about it. I do everything I'm supposed to do, because I intend to live to be very old!"