DIABETES is a chronic disease that affects the production or use of insulin, a hormone the body needs to break down food and turn it into glucose, the body's fuel.
There are two types of diabetes affecting about 175,000 people in Maryland and nearly 14 million in the United States:
Type 1, or Juvenile Diabetes, is the more serious disorder because it generally causes the body to stop producing insulin. Type 1 diabetes often affects young people and almost always occurs before a person is 40. People with Type 1 diabetes must take insulin daily to control the disease.
Type 2, or adult onset, diabetes affects older, and often overweight, people and is the more common of the two types. It affects the body's use, rather than its production, of insulin and can usually be controlled with diet and exercise.
The causes of diabetes are still unknown, though it has genetic ties and is often triggered, in young people, by a viral infection. There are about 10,000 new cases of diabetes diagnosed every year in Maryland.
In children, the symptoms show themselves ''quite late'' in the development of the disease, said Dr. Bruce Sindler, a Baltimore physician who treats many diabetes patients. The most typical age for a child to develop diabetes is 10 to 12 years, he said. There are about 1 million youngsters in this country with juvenile diabetes.
People with adult-onset diabetes may have the same symptoms, but they appear more gradually and can often be masked in daily routines, said Treva Zyna of the Maryland Affiliate of the American Diabetes Association. For this reason, about half of the people with this disease do not know it.
Anyone who thinks he may have diabetes should see a doctor.
More information is available from two local organizations: The Maryland Affiliate of the American Diabetes Association, 2 Reservoir Circle, Suite 203, Baltimore 21208, phone 486-5515, and the Maryland Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, Box 5870, Baltimore 21208, phone 356-4555.
The symptoms of juvenile diabetes
* An almost insatiable thirst.
* Frequent urination.
* Weight loss.
* Vision problems.
* Changes in personality or school performance.