November: ahh… crisp days, fall leaves, turkey, gravy, sweet potato casserole, mom’s pumpkin pie, and everyone gathered at the table – what could be better? If you’re like me, you are counting down the days, minutes, and seconds to Thanksgiving. Speaking of seconds (pun definitely intended) and pigging out, did you know that every 19 seconds, someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with diabetes? That’s why November is also Diabetes Awareness Month. According to the American Diabetes Association, about 30 million Americans – or one in ten – currently have a diabetes diagnosis. That’s bad enough, but the really scary thing is that they also estimate that by 2050 the rate of diabetes will triple, and one in three American adults will have diabetes. That’s some serious stuffing – I mean stuff.
The truth is that the typical American lifestyle, including mine, puts me and over 86 million of us at risk for being diagnosed with diabetes at some point in our lifetime. I’m talking bad diet, overweight, and not getting enough exercise. Guilty as charged! Add to that a family history of diabetes and getting older and you have the perfect storm for a diabetes diagnosis. And interestingly, certain medications taken for HIV or hepatitis infection can also raise a person’s risk for developing diabetes.
Diabetes is a disease in which the level of glucose (or sugar) in the blood is too high. When all is working right, blood glucose is carried into the body’s cells by insulin where it is used for energy. Insulin is produced by the pancreas, and when the pancreas fails to produce insulin, this is known as type one diabetes and is typically diagnosed in young people. Type two diabetes occurs when the pancreas produces insulin but the body has developed insulin-resistance and can no longer use it effectively enough to move glucose into cells. It is typically diagnosed in at-risk adults, and research shows there is a strong correlation between lifestyle and the development of insulin-resistance. Common symptoms of diabetes include frequent thirst and urination, extreme hunger, blurred vision, extreme fatigue and irritability, unusual weight loss or gain, tingling or numbness in the hands or feet, and slow healing of cuts or bruises. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor to be screened for diabetes. Uncontrolled diabetes can be life-threatening, and can significantly increase the risk of heart disease, kidney disease, blindness, stroke, and a painful condition called neuropathy.
Diabetes is a life-changing diagnosis and can be challenging to treat. The doctor and the patient have to work together to find the delicate balance of keeping blood glucose levels in a safe range. Initial treatment for the type-two diabetic is most often in the form oral medication. If safe blood-sugar levels cannot be achieved with oral medication, then the patient will become dependent on insulin injections. If you are an insulin-dependent diabetic or you live with someone who is, you should learn the signs of hyperglycemia (when blood sugar is too high and the person needs insulin) and hypoglycemia (when blood sugar is too low and the person needs to take sugar). Diabetes expert, nurse Felicea Patterson of Frederick County Health Department, suggests this rhyme: “Hot and dry – sugar high / Cold and clammy – need some candy.”
So, after all that, I’m not saying don’t enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner – throw caution to the wind and have some for me – just don’t do it every day. With diabetes, and ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. For more information go to: Diabetes.org. Visit Diabetesforecast.org/adm or call 1-800-DIABETES for meal-planning, shopping tips, grocery lists, and recipes to improve your diabetes risk this season.
Debbie Anne is a public-health nurse with the Frederick County Health Department. She has been awarded a Governor’s Citation for her work with Marylanders living with HIV.
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