American Diabetes Alert Day is March 25. Sponsored by the American Diabetes Association, the day is intended as a “wake-up call” to inform people about the seriousness of the disease and encourage them to get tested by their healthcare providers to see if they are at risk for developing diabetes. About a third of American adults with diabetes do not know that they have this serious disease.

Diabetes causes serious health problems including heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney disease, gum disease and nerve damage. Diabetes can also cause serious problems with feet and legs, which can lead to amputations.

Diabetes is a disease that affects how the body uses food for energy. People hear a lot of conflicting information about diabetes, including what causes it, how it is diagnosed and how it is managed. It is important to know the truth about diabetes, and to separate diabetes myths from diabetes facts.

Myth: Diabetes can only be inherited.

Although diabetes does run in families, many people diagnosed with the disease have no close family members who have it. Lifestyle and other factors, such as certain viruses, may also increase the risk of developing the disease.

Myth: Someone knows they have diabetes from symptoms like weight loss or increased thirst.

A person with type 1 diabetes (usually seen in children and young adults) will have obvious symptoms, because insulin needed to process food for energy is missing. However, people with type 2 diabetes (which usually occurs later in life) is becoming prevalent in younger adults to include children or women with gestational diabetes (special diabetes which only appears during pregnancy) may have few or no symptoms. Only a blood test can tell for sure if someone has diabetes.

Myth: Drinking water will wash away the extra sugar in the blood and cure the diabetes.

A high blood glucose level cannot be “washed away” by drinking water. However, diabetes can be controlled by eating healthy food, being physically active, controlling body weight, seeing a health-care provider regularly, taking prescribed medications and consistently monitoring blood glucose levels.

Myth: Insulin is a cure for diabetes.

At this point, there is no cure for diabetes. However, medications and lifestyle changes can help control diabetes.

Myth: People with diabetes can never eat any sugar.

To control blood sugar, all sources of carbohydrates (such as bread, pasta and cereal) must be controlled. With careful planning, small amounts of sugar can replace other carbohydrates usually eaten at a meal. Too much sugar is bad for everyone – it provides only empty calories.

People of age 45 or older should find out if they are at risk for diabetes or if they already have pre-diabetes by talking to their healthcare provider at their next visit. Then, take small steps toward the bigger reward of both a healthier lifestyle and diabetes prevention and control.

According to the American Diabetes Association, some people are not diagnosed with the disease until seven to 10 years after onset. Early diagnosis is critical to preventing complications such as heart disease, blindness, kidney diseases, stroke and amputation.

For more information about diabetes, visit these Web sites:

• Diabetes prevention: www.ndep.nih.gov/

diabetes/prev/prevention.htm

• National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse:

www.diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/

• American Diabetes Association: www.

diabetes.org