THURSDAY, Oct. 4, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Five years ago, Randy Jackson was sitting pretty.
An acclaimed rock musician and record producer, he was about to rocket to fame as one of the judges on Fox television's soon-to-be monster hit American Idol.
Then he was blindsided with the diagnosis that he had type 2 diabetes.
Today, with his disease under control, Jackson wants to alert others to the threat of this often silent illness -- and its potentially fatal link to heart disease.
"Diabetes snuck up on me. I didn't know I had it, and it was a huge wake-up call to get my health together," said Jackson, who has since lost 110 pounds and improved his diet. He also exercises regularly and monitors his diabetes with regular visits to the doctor.
Diabetes affects approximately 21 million Americans, and almost one-third of those who have it don't know it, according to the American Heart Association. Heart disease is the leading cause of death from type 2 diabetes -- the most common form of the disease -- so diagnosis and treatment carry a special urgency.
"Heart disease is the number one complication of diabetes, but there is a big awareness issue," said Dr. Stephen Clement, an endocrinologist and diabetes specialist at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C. "Patients think blindness, kidney problems and amputations are the biggest complications of diabetes. But physicians know that of all those, heart disease is the most prevalent complication."
To clear up these misconceptions, Jackson has joined with the American Heart Association and Takeda Pharmaceuticals North America in a program called The Heart of Diabetes. With the launch this week of its own Web site, the initiative is designed to encourage people to pay attention to possible diabetes symptoms so that if they do have the disease, they can begin treating and managing it early, significantly reducing their risk for cardiovascular disease.
"There is no cure for diabetes, but you can manage and control it," Jackson said.
Jackson knew that diabetes ran in his family, but he never thought he would get it -- until his health faltered.
"I was feeling tired and dehydrated. I could not get enough to drink. I felt like I had a cold," he said. So, he went to the doctor, thinking he had a stress-related illness.
He was shocked to learn he had type 2 diabetes and began immediate treatment to lose weight and adopt a healthier lifestyle -- keys to managing diabetes. His weight loss, which included gastric bypass surgery, combined with a healthier diet and regular exercise, as well as regular visits to his doctor, has allowed him to control his diabetes.
On the IKnowDiabetes.org Web site that is part of the American Heart Association campaign, Jackson talks about his diabetes and invites others with the disease to submit their own health stories. Three people with type 2 diabetes who submit their stories to the site and whose experiences with the disease are inspiring to others will be asked to appear in a public service announcement with Jackson to publicize the importance of diagnosing and treating the disease. Oct. 21 is the deadline to enter stories on the Web site.
"Everybody's struggle is different. Symptoms are a little different, and the Web site is a great information portal to log on to," Jackson said. "Sharing stories will enlighten people."
Type 2 diabetes is the result of an insulin imbalance in the body, according to the AHA. Most of the food a person eats is turned into glucose, or sugar, that the body uses for energy. Insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas, is needed to usher glucose into the cells of the body. But when the body doesn't produce enough insulin or doesn't use it efficiently, sugar levels build up in the bloodstream. These high sugar levels are the condition called diabetes, and high glucose levels in the bloodstream increase the risk for heart disease, Clement said.
Jackson's symptoms of fatigue and dehydration are very typical of people who have diabetes, Clement said, adding that blurred vision can be another common complaint of undiagnosed diabetes. Tests showing a high blood sugar level, high blood pressure and a cholesterol profile that includes a high triglyceride count and a low HDL count can indicate diabetes.
Jackson said that after his diagnosis, "the hardest thing to change was what I grew up with in Baton Rouge, Louisiana -- southern cooking."
All the sweet foods he loves and southern classic dishes like gumbo are no longer part of his diet, replaced with healthier food and a treadmill in his bedroom.
"I need to see the treadmill in my bedroom so I can stumble over to it," he quipped.
But Jackson urges everyone with diabetes to go at their own pace to improve their health -- and not get discouraged.
"The thing about being overweight is that you don't really want to work out, so I tell people, 'Just walk around the block 12 times,' " he said.
Visit The Heart of Diabetes to learn about the disease and tell your own story.