Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Dealing with diabetes: A surge in diagnoses and costs

Like the guys in the TV ads, Ken Bolster had a "going problem." He was getting up at night every two hours to go to the bathroom. Bolster thought it was his prostate, as the TV ads suggest, and waited for his annual physical exam to bring it up with his doctor.

His prostate was fine, but his blood sugar was sky high. Bolster was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in September. "It was a shocker to me," the Odessa resident said.

He has plenty of company. More than 20 million Americans have diabetes, and up to 95 percent of them have Type 2 diabetes, which has surged along with obesity rates. Bolster, 58, wasn't obese, but he does have a strong family history of the condition.

Type 1 diabetes develops most often in children and young adults who suddenly stop producing insulin (PDF). In Type 2, patients still produce some insulin, but it doesn't work as efficiently as it should.

Type 2 usually develops after age 45, and so it is also known as adult-onset diabetes. But as more children are becoming obese, more are developing Type 2 diabetes long before reaching adulthood.

Early symptoms can be subtle, as Bolster learned, so an estimated 10 million Americans don't even know they have diabetes.

The financial impact of diabetes is staggering — about $174 billion in 2007 in medical costs, days lost from work and early death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last week, a study in the journal Health Affairs found health costs last year related to obesity had hit nearly $150 billion, and the biggest reason was the skyrocketing rate of Type 2 diabetes.

Why is diabetes so costly? Partly because of expensive new medications, testing supplies and the many complications associated with diabetes.

"Patients need eye care, foot care, cardiac care and testing, dental care and many patients don't have insurance coverage for that," says Dr. Susan Jane Boston, an endocrinologist with Morton Plant Mease Diabetes and Endocrine Center at Mease Countryside Hospital in Safety Harbor. Some patients must choose between eating and buying medication or testing supplies, she said.

Early diagnosis can make a difference

When we eat, sugars and starches are broken down by the body into glucose. The hormone insulin removes glucose from the bloodstream, carrying it to the cells where it is used for energy. If you don't produce enough insulin, or the body doesn't use insulin properly, glucose can't get into the cells and they begin to starve. With nowhere to go, glucose builds up in the bloodstream, often with serious consequences.

Bolster had one of the most common symptoms of diabetes: frequent urination. It's the body's way of trying to get rid of all that glucose in the bloodstream. No matter how much they drink, diabetics seem to have an unquenchable thirst and can become dehydrated. Left unchecked, severe dehydration can lead to a coma, even death. That's why high blood sugar must be treated and controlled, usually for life.

Uncontrolled, it can damage nerves, particularly in the feet and lower legs, leading to amputation; it also can damage small blood vessels in the eyes, kidneys and heart, resulting in vision loss, kidney failure, heart attack and stroke.

Holly Wetz, a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, says early diagnosis and treatment are key to avoiding complications. But too often, people don't seek help until trouble starts.

"By the time we see them they've already lost vision, they're already on dialysis," says Wetz. "Most have had symptoms and didn't know it was diabetes."

Anyone who has a family history of diabetes needs to be screened and should be alert for symptoms of the disease.

Besides frequent urination and excessive thirst, other symptoms of Type 2 diabetes include extreme hunger with weight loss, blurred vision, nausea and vomiting, extreme weakness and fatigue, and loss of feeling in the hands or feet. Symptoms may be so mild that they're easy to dismiss as simply getting older.

Anyone can get Type 2 diabetes but those at highest risk include African-Americans, Hispanics and American Indians, those who are overweight or obese (especially with fat concentrated in the belly) and those with a family history of Type 2 diabetes. Also at risk are those who are inactive, women who had gestational diabetes during pregnancy, smokers and the elderly.

And because of the epidemic of obesity in children, Type 2 diabetes — once exclusively a disease of adults — is becoming more common in adolescents and teenagers.

Taking a proactive approach is key

Bolster, a retired hospital data processing director from upstate New York, didn't let the shock of his diagnosis last long. His doctor prescribed daily medication to get his blood sugar under control. He swore off junk food, started walking, joined a fitness center and began attending diabetes education classes.

Almost a year later, he still checks his blood sugar five times a day, but the lifestyle changes made such a difference he now needs almost no prescription medication. He says family support was critical and gives his wife and daughter a lot of credit for his success. "I'm a good soldier," he says. "I feel extremely optimistic. Having it in check makes everybody feel a whole lot better."

Irene Maher can be reached at or (813) 226-3416.

More Info

  • The American Diabetes Association has a new interactive tool called My Health Advisor, to assess your risk for Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Plus, the association is sponsoring a free Diabetes Expo on Oct. 24 at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa. For information, call (813) 885-5007 or visit and click on local events and information.
  • For information about diabetes education classes at the St. Joseph's Hospital Diabetes Center, call (813) 870-4995. Classes are open to the public; physician referral is required.

Dealing with diabetes: A surge in diagnoses and costs 08/05/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 6, 2009 6:00pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. These two documents illustrate how Florida has made it harder to access inspection reports of nursing homes, heavily censoring what the public can see. In the foreground is a document obtained from a federal agency that details the findings of a Feb. 2016 inspection at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, where 10 patients died after Hurricane Irma. Behind it is the state's version of the same document, showing how it has been redacted before being released to the public. [Miami Herald]
  2. Amber Alert canceled after Bradenton siblings found in Alabama

    Public Safety

    An Amber Alert was canceled early Friday morning for four Bradenton siblings who were taken by their mother, who authorities said does not have custody of the children.

    An Amber Alert has been issued for four Bradenton siblings who were taken by their mother, who does not have custody of the children. [Florida Department of Law Enforcement]

  3. Cue the Scott Frost to Nebraska speculation


    Nebraska shook up the college sports world Thursday afternoon when it fired athletic director Shawn Eichorst.

    And that should scare UCF fans.

  4. Oh, Florida! Irma's gone, but she left behind plenty of lessons for us


    I don't want to make light of the misery and death that Hurricane Irma inflicted on Florida this month. A lot of it was ugly, and some of it was downright criminal. We saw greed and pettiness on display, and it brought illness and death.

    Tampa Bay Times staff writer Craig Pittman.