Diabetes ... diabetes ... diabetes. It's the word we keep hearing on commercials, news programs and reading about in papers and magazines. We hear about how, as a nation, we are diagnosing one million people every year and how approximately 8.6 million Americans age 60 and over have diabetes.
So what is diabetes? How do I know if I am at risk for diabetes? If I already have diabetes, what should I be doing about it?
First of all, diabetes is a condition where your body does not use glucose as effectively as it should. Glucose is our body's fuel that we get from the foods we eat. As part of digestion, our body breaks down food into glucose so our cells can "burn" it for fuel. Insulin is a hormone from the pancreas that our body produces that is necessary for the process of getting the glucose into the cells.
With diabetes, our body either doesn't make insulin or our body is resistant and doesn't use the insulin we have. There are two main types of diabetes - type 1 and type 2. In type 1, people make little to no insulin of their own and they get insulin injections as soon as they are diagnosed. It is usually diagnosed by the age of 30. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form. It is where a person makes insulin but they become insulin resistant and are unable to use the insulin they do make.
Are you at risk for diabetes?
There are many factors that place us at risk for diabetes: obesity, inactivity, family history of diabetes, age and race. If you are female and had diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes) or delivered a large (more than 9 pound) infant, you also have an increased risk for diabetes.
All people should be screened regularly for diabetes but if you have risk factors, you should be tested annually by having a simple lab test done. The earlier it is diagnosed, the less chance you have of long-term complications. There are signs of diabetes but are many times unnoticeable until blood sugars are extremely high. They include increased thirst, feeling more tired, dry skin, increased hunger and, in some cases, unexplained weight loss.
If you already have a diagnosis of diabetes, the most important thing you need to do is educate yourself regarding the condition and how to care for it. Meal planning, exercise and medications are the main treatments for diabetes. All persons with diabetes should also receive instruction on how to monitor their blood sugars at home. All newly diagnosed persons should attend diabetes education sessions and be seen by a dietitian for personalized meal planning. Follow-up education should be done as needed and at least yearly for reassessment.
Long-term complications are common with diabetes and can be life threatening, but by keeping your blood sugar levels close to normal that risk can be reduced and the onset of complications can be prevented or delayed. Diabetes increases the risk for cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke), nerve damage, kidney disease, eye damage, skin and mouth conditions and bone and joint problems.
As part of their plan of care, a person with diabetes should see their primary care provider and have lab work done every three months, have a regular foot exam, regular dental exams, an annual dilated eye exam and a yearly urine test, called a microalbumin test, that assesses for kidney function.
Call Trinity Hospital Center for Diabetes Education at 857-5268 with any questions and to schedule and appointment with a diabetes educator and dietitian and start your path to a healthier life today.
Deanna Westman is a registered nurse and a certified diabetes educator at Trinity Health in Minot.