Chrissie asked some excellent questions about my diabetes in a comment to my last post and I realized that I've never really talked much about it other than to say that I have it and I'm either taking care of it or not. I don't know how many other weight loss/health bloggers might be diabetic, too, but I do know that one person every 20 seconds is diagnosed with diabetes and that nearly 6 million Americans have the disease and don't know it yet, so why not spend a few moments looking at the disease: what is diabetes? what are the signs and symptoms? what are the risk factors? and what should you (and me) be doing to take care of yourself if you are diabetic?
First, what is diabetes? Actually, there are several different kinds of diabetes: Type 1 (usually called Juvenile Diabetes), Type 2 (used to be called Adult-Onset but now they've got young children developing this form), and Gestational (temporary condition that happens to some pregnant women and makes them more likely to develop Type 2 later in life). I have Type 2 and it's the most common type, so I'm just going to talk about this one type. (For information about Type 1 or Gestational Diabetes, check out diabetes.org, the official website of the American Diabetes Association.) In type 2 diabetes, either the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin. Insulin is necessary for the body to be able to use glucose for energy. When you eat food, the body breaks down all of the sugars and starches into glucose, which is the basic fuel for the cells in the body. Insulin takes the sugar from the blood into the cells. When glucose builds up in the blood instead of going into cells, it can lead to complications such as blindness, heart disease, kidney disease, nerve damage, high blood pressure, and numbness in your feet.
What are the symptoms that you might be diabetic? Frequent urination, excessive thirst, extreme hunger, unusual weight loss, frequent infections, blurred vision, cuts or bruises that are slow to heal, tingling or numbness in your hands or feet, and recurring skin, gum, or bladder infections are all signs that you should go to your doctor to test for the possibility that you have diabetes.
What are the risk factors for developing diabetes? Being over age 45, having a family history of diabetes, being overweight, not exercising regularly, having low HDL cholesterol, high triglycerides, or high blood pressure, certain racial and ethnic groups (particularly Hispanic, Asian and Pacific Islander, and Native American), and women who had gestational diabetes or who have had a baby weighing over 9 pounds at birth.
So, once you're diagnosed, what should you do to take care of yourself? First and foremost, you must find a primary care physician that you trust and can be totally honest with. You will need to visit him/her three times a year every year for the rest of your life and they will be your partner in preventing or treating diabetic complications, so take some time to find the right person. You will also need to have your eyes checked by an ophthalmologist, including dilation of your eyes to allow a thorough examination of the retina and optic nerve. You may need a referral to a diabetes educator or nutritionist to help you understand how to eat and move properly to help control your blood sugar. You might need to take oral diabetes medications and/or inject yourself with insulin, depending on how your body responds to the diet changes and exercise. And what about the diet and exercise recommendations for a person with diabetes? Basically, it's much the same as the recommendations for a non-diabetic: eat controlled amounts of low-fat food including lots of fresh vegetables and at least two servings of fruit each day, limit your intake of red meats, aim to move your body for 30 minutes a day every day, don't smoke, and find ways to control the stress in your life. Additionally, diabetics should shoot for consuming no more than 135 grams of carbohydrate per day and no more than 45 grams of carbohydrate at one sitting. (FYI, this is the part of the program I personally have the most trouble complying with.)
March 23rd is American Diabetes Alert Day, so I'm a little early with this, but I hope what I've written today has helped demystify this disease. The doctor that diagnosed me with diabetes way back in 1996 when I was 29 years old told me something that has stuck with me all these years and I want to leave you with his words. In response to my tearful question, "Will this disease kill me?" Dr. Bernstein said, "It is likely that your death will eventually be caused by a complication of diabetes, but that doesn't have to happen for a very long time, Denise, so let's work hard to make sure you live a long, full life in the meantime."