ACCORDING TO the American Diabetes Association, there are 20.8 million children and adults in the United States who have diabetes, 6.2 million of them undiagnosed. A whopping 54 million more are considered pre-diabetic.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, 760,000 people in Pennsylvania have diabetes.

Diabetes respects no boundaries. It strikes men and women of all races and ethnicities, and all economic groups. There are three main types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2 and gestational.

Controlling diabetes is extremely important and should be supervised by a doctor. Left untreated or uncontrolled, diabetes can lead to infections, kidney disease, blindness, nerve damage, heart disease and stroke.

My next three columns will focus on diabetes. I'll also highlight some men and women who are fighting this insidious disease.

What is Type 1 Diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the beta cells in the pancreas that make insulin. "It is most commonly diagnosed in young children during the first decade of life but some teens and young adults get the disease also," said Dr. Susan L. Freeman, endocrinologist and chief medical officer at Temple University Hospital. "It causes children to be very hungry, thirsty, urinate frequently, prone to skin infections, urinary tract infections, and bed wetting may also be a sign."

It is a chronic disease requiring lifelong maintenance. Type 1 diabetics do not make insulin, and they must therefore take insulin daily. Treatment for this form of diabetes includes taking insulin shots or using an insulin pump, as well as maintaining a healthy diet and regular exercise.

Adam Gladsden

Northeast Philly native Adam Gladsden was 31 and fit as a fiddle when he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. "It came as a total surprise to me and I had no idea there was a Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes," said Gladsden.

It all started to unfold one day when Gladsden collapsed while playing ball with some high school buddies. Following that incident, his thirst became unquenchable and he found himself drinking liter after liter of water, yet he remained dehydrated.

Then he started to lose weight, a whopping 15 pounds in three weeks. "I would go to McDonalds and eat like a horse but I was still losing weight," said Gladsden.

A visit to the doctor and a week in intensive care led to the diagnosis. "I was almost relieved when they told me it was diabetes - I thought I had cancer," explained Gladsden. "You can live with it, you can manage it and still live a long life. In many ways it has been a blessing to me."

Liz Smith

Liz Smith, 28, of Abington, got the shock of her life three years ago, just before her wedding. She took a routine blood test for life insurance and learned she had Type 1 diabetes.

"That test saved my life, it was a blessing, now I really take care of myself," said Smith. It's been a big learning curve, requiring more planning, but now she exercises regularly three to five times a week, maintains a healthy diet and a healthy weight.

"Before diagnosis, I didn't consider myself a strong person, able to overcome," said Smith. "It's amazing how you can adapt. I feel stronger now."

Laura

Laura from Delaware was diagnosed during a routine physical exam during her freshman year of college. She had participated in sports throughout high school and thought she was completely healthy.

"But I was dropping weight like crazy, about 25 pounds in two months, and drinking lots of iced tea," she said. After diagnosis, Laura became very knowledgeable about the disease and what she needs to do to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

"A lot of people know about it but don't know the symptoms. If you suspect you have the condition go to the doctor - the sooner the better," advised Laura.

For more information, or if you just want to get involved and help others with diabetes, go to the American Diabetes Association Web site at www.diabetes.org or www.Stepuptofightdiabetes.

org. *

Kimberly Garrison is a certified personal trainer and owner of One on One Ultimate Fitness in Philadelphia (www.1on1ultimatefitness.com).

E-mail her at

kimberly@1on1ultimatefitness.com. Her column appears each Thursday in Yo! Chat with her on her Daily News weblog, the Girlfriends' Locker Room, at www.girlfriendslockerroom.com. Her new podcast, "Philly Fitness and Health," is available for download every Thursday at www.philly.com.