CLAYTON — The number of people living with diabetes is on the rise in the state and in Johnston County.
On Thursday, N.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos visited Novo Nordisk to present a proclamation from Gov. Pat McCrory declaring Nov. 14 World Diabetes Day.
Novo Nordisk makes insulin pens and other tools to help diabetics manage their disease.
“Diabetes affects more than 10 percent of the adult population in our state and is our seventh-leading cause of death,” Wos said.
Justin Thomas of the American Diabetes Association was among the speakers at the event. He said 1.1 million people in North Carolina have some type of diabetes or pre-diabetes. He has Type 1 diabetes, which is usually found in children and young adults. The body cannot produce its own insulin, which is needed to convert sugars and starches into energy.
Type 2 diabetes is more common in adults, but is affecting children now, too, as childhood obesity increases.
Complications from diabetes can lead to heart disease, blindness, kidney failure and the need for limb amputation.
In addition to the 1.1 million people with diabetes, another 232,000 North Carolinians have the disease and don’t know it.
Signs to look for include increased thirst and urination. Early symptoms also include blurred vision, fatigue and tingling in the fingers and toes.
In Johnston County, the number of people with diabetes is on the rise, climbing from 8.1 percent in 2009 to 13.5 percent in 2010, the most recent year for which numbers are available.
Dr. Marilyn Pearson is director of the Johnston County Health Department. “One of the things we all need to focus on is being more active and eating healthy,” she said.
Diabetes has no cure, though it can be managed by eating well, exercising and maintaining a healthy weight. If diet and exercise don’t control blood sugar, medication might be needed.
Living with diabetes
For Thomas , the American Diabetes Association representative, the disease changed his life when he was 10 years old.
He had been visiting a cousin in Kentucky, and on the way home to Charlotte with his mom, he had to stop every 15 to 20 minutes to use the restroom. And he was so thirsty, he was getting another drink at every stop.
For Thomas, it was a sugary soda, which he now realizes was making his condition worse, putting more sugar into his body that it couldn’t convert to energy.
The typical 10-hour drive took 15. Thankfully, Thomas was traveling with his mother who knew the symptoms of diabetes. She took him to a doctor, where he was diagnosed.
For the past 10 years Thomas has been using Novolog, a fast-acting insulin product created by Novo Nordisk and manufactured at the company’s plant just outside of Clayton.
“I still worry about the complications sometimes,” Johnson said. “But I try to manage it well and protect my health now.”
Novo Nordisk is one of the county’s largest employers, with plans to add 110 new jobs over the next 18 months.