Diabetes is a serious condition that is becoming more and more common. Diabetes, which is marked by elevated blood glucose and the body’s inability to use that blood glucose, affects more than 25.8 million people in the U.S., about 8.3% of the population.
Here locally, more than 9% of adults have type 2 diabetes. This is a growing health concern, as diabetes contributes to so many other problems that lead to death, such as heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease.
Blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is created when your body digests food. It’s the energy your body gets from anything you eat or drink.
With diabetes (particularly type 2), your body doesn’t process that blood glucose correctly, which can lead to elevated blood glucose that isn’t being converted into energy. When this blood glucose isn’t processed, the high sugar levels start causing damage in the body. This can lead to a variety of problems, such as:
- Circulatory system problems. Heart attacks and stroke are typically a result of problems with blood vessels. When someone has diabetes that isn’t controlled, blood vessels are constantly being exposed to too much blood sugar, which damages their inner lining. This can set up conditions that lead to heart attack and stroke.
- Eye problems. High blood sugar damages the retina, which causes diabetic retinopathy. The small blood vessels in the eye are damaged. All of this can lead to gradual blindness.
- Kidney disease. The kidneys serve as our body’s filters, and when there’s too much blood sugar, the kidneys are damaged. Kidney damage can gradually lead to kidney failure.
- Nerve damage. Too much blood sugar damages the outer coating of nerves, which leads to nerve damage. This often starts in the extremities, where people experience diabetic neuropathy. This can lead to tingling, burning, and/or numbness in the feet and hands. If someone can’t feel their feet, they can be prone to injuring them, which can create wounds that don’t heal well due to the circulation problems.
Major Risk Factors
When it comes to diabetes, prevention is the best goal. Major risk factors for diabetes include:
- Family history. If someone in your family has diabetes, it increases the risk of others in the family for developing diabetes.
- Being overweight or obese.
- Inactive lifestyle. Sitting a lot, with little to no exercise.
- Ethnicity. African Americans, as well as those of Hispanic and Asian cultures, are at increased risk of developing diabetes.
Obviously, you can’t control your family history or ethnicity. But the other risk factors CAN be controlled to a certain degree with some lifestyle changes. If someone can make healthier food choices and increase their activity level, it can reduce the risk of developing diabetes by 58%!
Diabetes is diagnosed typically through blood tests. The simplest test, which is often the first indicator of a problem, is a blood glucose screening test. If someone has been fasting (hasn’t eaten for at least four hours), their blood glucose should be somewhere between 70 and 99. If the blood glucose level is between 100 – 125, it is considered borderline high. If certain changes aren’t made (in lifestyle, diet, medication, etc.), this person is very likely to develop diabetes. Diabetes itself is consistently having a fasting blood glucose over 125. At that time, a variety of changes need to take place to bring the condition under control.
A test called the hemoglobin A1C is like a long-term blood glucose test, in that it measures what your blood sugar has been averaging over the past two-three months. It is also an indicator of diabetes if it has a score of 6.5% or higher. You don’t have to be fasting for this test, as it’s a measurement of blood glucose over time.
The starting point of treatment will vary based on the severity of the disease. If the disease is less severe, the first line of treatment is often to make lifestyle changes. This means to increase physical activity and to improve the diet to include fewer processed carbohydrates and simple sugars. Oral medication may also be prescribed by your physician.
If the disease is more severe, indicated by a high A1C score, medication and lifestyle changes are both very important.
Deaconess Diabetes Center (DDC)
The Deaconess Diabetes Center (DDC) is an important resource for patients who have diabetes. It offers comprehensive diabetes self-management programs. Our comprehensive self-management training teaches patients how to monitor and control diabetes.
The ten-hour program includes information on behavior change, glucose monitoring, oral medication management, insulin management, foot care, meal planning, the role of exercise in diabetes control, and more. Classes/appointments also include insulin management, including how to manage insulin pumps and glucose sensors.
Glucose meter management includes all aspects of blood glucose monitoring. Participants learn about meter selection and maintenance, meter strips, lancing devices, lancets, skin preparation, site selection, record keeping, and when to monitor blood glucose levels.
A physician referral to the DDC is required, and our staff will be happy to help coordinate that referral. Most insurances, including Medicare, will cover services provided by the DDC.