Latvia's diabetes numbers up, lower than in West

  • 2000-08-03
  • Anna Pridanova
RIGA - The number of diabetes patients in Latvia increased 7.5 percent compared to the last year figures.

Health officials reported 1,805 new cases this year.

Diabetes mellitus is a chronic condition that arises when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body cannot effectively use insulin to enable tissues to absorb glucose from the blood.

The increase of diabetes cases is a common trend worldwide, said R. Valdis Pirags, president of the Latvian Endocrinology Association. "And in Latvia the number of diabetes patients is relatively small," he said. "One of the reasons in Latvia the diabetes rates are lower {than in Western countries} is that the life span is shorter here. Age is one of the diabetes risk factors."

According to the International Diabetes Association statistics, 18.4 percent of all U.S. residents aged 65 or older have diabetes, while 8.2 percent of those aged 20 or older have the disease.

"In Europe it ranges from 3 percent to 5 percent of population, while in Latvia only 1 percent of all people have diabetes," said Pirags.

Other causes of diabetes include an unhealthy life style and obesity.

Seventy percent of people with adult-onset diabetes are obese. It also strongly related to genetics.

Another precondition is the sedentary life style, says Pirags and adds that regular exercise for at least a half hour three times a week can prevent the development of the disease or help treat it.

People who have diabetes are prescribed a special diet, usually have to lose some weight and also increase the physical training load.

According to the World Health Organization, only 65 percent of all diabetes cases are diagnosed.

The most common signs of diabetes are excessive thirst, frequent urination, tiredness and unexplained weight loss.

WHO believes if current trends continue, the number of persons with diabetes will more than double from 140 million to 300 million people in the next 25 years.

If not treated, diabetes can cause heart and kidney disease, blindness and amputation of foot. It can also cause the progressive destruction of small blood vessels leading to such complications as infections and gangrene of the limbs.

"But very important to know is that the worst complications can be prevented," said Pirags.

The disease requires special and expensive treatment. In Latvia diabetes patients receive insulin and medication free from the state. But the glucometers, the instrument that tests sugar contamination in the blood, are in short supply.

But the cost of one glucose test strip, the electrode indicator, is around 0.2 lats ($0.34). Those who have stable sugar level - once a day or every second day, those unstable - up to four times a day, said Pirags.

"But many can not afford that," said Ina Grinvalde of the Diabetes Association. "We see so many desperate people coming to us. It is very expensive to live with the diabetes here (in Latvia)."