November is American Diabetes Month. It’s an important observation because 29 million Americans have diabetes. One in every 11 people—which likely relates to many, many people you know—are living with the disease. You, yourself, may have diabetes or prediabetes, a reversible form of the disease, without even knowing it.
When left unchecked, diabetes can cause seriously debilitating complications, like nerve, kidney, eye, skin, and foot damage over time. It can even cause heart and lung disease and Alzheimer’s. That’s why understanding the basics of diabetes and getting tested are an important part of everybody’s health routine.
Here are the basics:
Insulin is a chemical your body uses to get sugars from the foods you eat from your bloodstream to the cells of the body that need them. Each of the three major types of diabetes relates to trouble producing or using insulin.
Type 1, which affects only 5 percent of all people with diabetes, is usually diagnosed in children or young adults. It’s a condition where the body doesn’t produce any or enough insulin.
Gestational diabetes comes on during and ends after pregnancy. Recognizing it and following your provider’s advice is important for the health of the mother and child. Also, gestational diabetes is a risk factor for developing the most common type of diabetes, Type 2, later in life.
Type 2 diabetes is when your body becomes resistant to the effects of insulin. With early detection and careful management, you can avoid or delay the complications related to diabetes and live a long and healthy life.
Here’s what to do:
• Know your risk. Family history, high blood pressure, age, race, physical activity, and body mass index (which is determined by your height and weight) can relate to greater risk. Take the test at diabetes.org/are-you-at-risk for your personal risk assessment.
• Regardless of your risk, be sure to have a standard blood test at your primary care provider’s office yearly, and ask your provider for a reading of your results. Based on the results, you could be referred to a program that helps people prevent Type 2 diabetes or to a diabetes educator.
• Between tests, look for the following signs and symptoms: urinating often; feeling very thirsty or very hungry, even when you are eating and drinking normally; fatigue; blurry vision; and tingling, pain, or numbness in your hands and feet. If you have one or more of these symptoms, make an appointment with your primary care provider.
If you are diagnosed with diabetes, it’s important to act right away. The sooner you get the information you need and learn to incorporate healthy changes the more likely you are to avoid or delay serious complications.
• Get connected. Diabetes is very complex, and there is a lot to learn. Luckily, there are specialized teachers, called diabetes educators, working in our community. Their sole purpose is to help you understand the disease process, to uncover the barriers to wellness, and find a personalized approach for managing your diabetes. Just ask your primary care provider to connect you with a diabetes educator.
• Focus on creating an environment and relationships that support your goal to live a healthy and productive life. Your supportive friends and family, your diabetes educator, and diabetes support groups can help break down barriers and cheer you on.
• Believe in yourself. Making the types of changes needed to manage diabetes is challenging. The most important thing to know is this: you can do it. Start small, and you’ll soon see that small changes add up over time.
The changes that you need to make to prevent or manage diabetes will improve every aspect of your health and limit your risks of many other major diseases, like heart disease and cancer. Best of all, you will be living in a way that improves your overall experience and creating a positive example for everyone you encounter.
Jill Robart, RN, BSN, CDE, is a diabetes educator working in primary care practices throughout the region. She helps approximately 250 patients annually to decrease the negative effects of diabetes. “Health Matters” is a column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public health matters, and public policy as it affects health care. For more stories like this one, visit svhealthcare.org/wellnessconnection.