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Brunswick County turns up surprising numbers of undiagnosed diabetics

Of the 26 million Americans who have diabetes, a quarter of them don’t know they have it.

And like many serious diseases, the earlier it’s diagnosed, the easier it is to mitigate the debilitating effects.  As WHQR’s Rachel Lewis Hilburn reports, a pilot program in a local hospital turned up some surprises in Brunswick County – leading to an aggressive local program to diagnose the illness and educate the community. 

It started as a simple experiment:  medical staff at Brunswick Novant Medical Center would test all patients for diabetes as a routine part of the hospital admission process.   The test turned up staggering results.   Over a 3-month period, a surprising percentage turned out to be undiagnosed diabetics.  Dr. David Koenig, a hospitalist at Novant, says diabetes can lead to end-organ damage, particularly kidney damage, and increased risk for stroke and heart disease. 

“And so if you go along and you’re asymptomatic and don’t know you have diabetes for 5-10 years, you may well have put yourself at much higher risk for those problems.” 

Dr. Koenig also emphasizes that lifestyle changes can make the difference between needing medication to manage the disease -- or not.  But the continuing rise in obesity and diabetes is a head-scratcher for the doctor – since the issue is hardly new or obscure. 

 "I’m constantly stunned how I’ve asked the people who are diabetic – have you started to just walk around the block at least 3 times a week?  Or walk 4 blocks down the way and back 3 times a week?  And yet I find a number of people who say, you know, I haven’t started doing that.  And no, I’m not increasing my activity yet.”

Everyone is at some risk of diabetes, says Dr. Koenig.  And everyone should recognize that risk, take responsibility for making changes, and push back, he says, against the inertia that makes us drive to the fast-food joint for dinner. 

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 4 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.