Living with diabetes
Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects the way your body uses food for energy. When you have diabetes, either your pancreas makes little or no insulin, or the insulin your pancreas does produce is not working the way it should. It's a disease that's lifelong, complicated and costly.
Right now, one in 10 adults in Pennsylvania has diabetes. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if current trends continue, as many as one in three U.S. adults could have diabetes by 2050.
Even more troubling is that Type 2 diabetes - formerly known as adult-onset diabetes - accounts for 90 percent of diabetes cases nationwide and has been increasing at a rapid rate along with the rise in obesity in the United States. Besides obesity, family history and physical inactivity are risk factors for this type of diabetes.
But research funded by the National Institutes of Health has shown that type 2 diabetes can be delayed or prevented. Basic lifestyle interventions, such as modest weight loss and regular exercise, slash type 2 diabetes risk in people with pre-diabetes by 58 percent over three years.
So what can we do? First and most importantly, lifestyle choices including healthy eating and physical activity should be on everyone's radar screen. Being overweight puts you at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes. And quitting smoking is an important part of diabetes prevention and control.
Whether you have diabetes or not, it's also critical to have an annual physical exam. Early screening and identification is a key factor in getting diabetes under control. Even mild hyperglycemia (a fasting blood sugar of 100 mg/dL or higher) can be a warning sign for diabetes. If you catch it early, you may be able to gain control with diet and exercise. But if you show up to your doctor with a blood sugar of 250 mg/dL or higher, you may already be at risk for serious medical issues related to diabetes. Leaving high blood glucose levels unchecked for long periods of time can increase your risk of complications such as eye disease, kidney disease, heart attacks, strokes and more.
If you've been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, please remember these important tips for keeping your diabetes under control:
* Understand the purpose of blood glucose self-monitoring and how prescribed medications are intended to work. Always take your medicine as directed by your physician to maintain the correct insulin level in your blood.
* Follow a meal plan that helps you eat the right foods. Learn to read food labels and carefully manage carbohydrates and fats. Well-balanced meals can help keep your glucose level as close to normal as possible.
* Stay physically active. Making regular exercise part of your day may allow you to take less insulin or other medication. Always consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.
* Check your blood glucose before exercising. If it's under 100 mg/dL, eat some fruit, crackers or have a glass of milk or juice. Check it again after exercising to learn how your blood glucose reacts to exercise. Bring a snack if you'll be active for a few hours.
* Be proactive by learning which regular screenings you need and be sure you schedule them. Annual foot exams, dilated eye exams, Hemoglobin A1c and cholesterol testing will help you maintain your health.
* Understand the symptoms of worsening or unchecked diabetes, and learn to look for the signs that may mean you are getting away from good self-care.
* Finally, take advantage of diabetes education programs offered by your physician, your health insurance provider or other community agencies.
If you are a member of Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania, for example, you have full access to our Blue Health Solutions program, which offers support in all areas of health management including diabetes. Most diabetes management programs take a team-oriented approach to helping you learn to live with and manage your condition.
Working closely with you and your healthcare provider, a diabetes health coach will provide the tools you need to help you be successful with your treatment plan.
Being diagnosed with diabetes can be overwhelming. And while no one wants to have diabetes, the reality is it is very controllable with the right tools. The tips above can help you be an active participant in your health care. And be sure to contact your health care provider or the American Diabetes Association if you need more information.
senior directorof clinical operations for Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania