Awareness key to fighting diabetes

Sixteen million people in the United States have been diagnosed with diabetes. There are probably many more who have yet to be diagnosed. For that reason, November has been designated as National Diabetes Awareness Month.

"This is an education month. Our goal is to make people aware of how important yearly diabetes screening is as early diagnosis can make a big difference," said Dr. Laura Rothe, an internal medicine specialist located at Northwest Health Specialists Center in Craig.

Diabetes is a disease that early diagnosis helps avoid later complications.

Diabetes Awareness Month is sponsored by The Memorial Hospital (TMH) Diabetes Team and Tuesday at City Market and Thursday at Safeway, from noon to 2 p.m. each day, team member Becky Menge, a registered dietician, will hold a grocery store walk-through entitled "Supermarket Savvy." The walk-through is open to the public and will show consumers, especially those with diabetes, how to find real values for money and health with nutrition labeling.

On Nov. 17, the team will hold an open house from noon to 1:30 p.m. in the TMH conference room.

Every day the human body uses food eaten to make sugar which is necessary to provide energy. Insulin helps the sugar leave the blood and go into the body's cells, where it is used as a fuel of sorts. When this process happens as it should, the level of sugar in the blood goes down and the body has energy for a full and active life.

This system does not work for people with diabetes. Diabetics' bodies cannot make energy from digested food. Sugar stays in the blood instead of going into the body cells.

Diabetes is a lifelong disease.

There are two types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is when the body makes little or no insulin, also called insulin-dependent diabetes, and symptoms include increases in thirst, passing of urine and hunger, sudden weight loss and tiredness. With Type 2 diabetes, non-insulin dependent diabetes, the body makes insulin but is unable to use the insulin. Insulin shots are not necessary, but many Type 2 diabetics take insulin to feel better. Type 1 diabetics require insulin shots to stay alive. Symptoms of Type 2 diabetes can be feeling tired, frequent infections, slow healing cuts or sores, blurred eyesight, sexual problems, dry and itchy skin with numbness or tingling in hands or feet and increased hunger, thirst and passing of urine.

According to Rothe, it is important to have blood sugar tested for diabetes and if diabetes is part of family history, tests should be done frequently.

"It is important to be tested because Type 2 diabetes often shows no symptoms and many people are not diagnosed until they develop complications," Rothe said.

Less than 10 percent of people with diabetes have Type 1 diabetes, making Type 2 diabetes the most common.

Diabetics have a goal of maintaining control of their bodies to keep the blood sugar as normal as possible. Doctors specializing in diabetic care, such as Rothe, have charts and tools to measure sugar levels and offer advice.

Doctors agree a patients feel better when their blood sugar is close to normal. This way, diabetes will have less power to disrupt the lives of those with the disease.

"Probably the most important thing for the caring of diabetes is to try and normalize the average blood sugar," Rothe said.

There are six tools used for controlling, and controlling diabetes well. Education is a basic tool of diabetes care. It is learning about the disease and how to live with it. Being able to plan meals accordingly is also vital in staying healthy.

Diabetic meal planning does not necessarily mean cutting out all good foods, but is choosing healthy foods, eating the right amount of food and eating meals at the right times.

Exercising is also very important for diabetics. Regular exercise helps to better control the amount of sugar in the blood as being physically active lowers blood sugar. It also controls weight by burning off calories and fat, improves overall health and simply stated, helps a person to feel better, both in body and mind.

Having the right medicines to use or produce insulin is another link in the chain for diabetics. Everyone must have insulin and Type 1 diabetics do not so they must take insulin shots every day to live. About 40 percent of people with Type 2 diabetes take insulin shots every day. Insulin cannot be taken in pill form, therefore it must be given as a shot under the skin with a syringe.

Daily diabetes tests allow diabetics to tell how their particular care plan is working. Blood sugar levels can be checked with one drop of blood on a blood-testing strip. After the blood is on the strip, sugar levels can be read either with the human eyes or by a meter, which can read the levels more accurately. Results from these tests are then brought to the diabetes medical team and are used to help the patient make choices about meal planning, exercise and medicine.

This team of peers, doctors and diabetes educators make up the sixth part of controlling diabetes. Diabetics need this team for proper management. A doctor is always a part of this team, a nurse, diabetes educator, dietitian and a pharmacist should also be on the team.

Coping with diabetes may be the hardest part. It can be a strain, keeping up with daily care, worrying about future health and it takes hard work to stay in control. Accepting the disease and telling peers is the first step in coping. Being able to deal with feelings toward diabetes is also necessary for proper treatment.

Diabetics face serious health care problems such as eye problems, including blindness, kidney disease, foot and leg problems (approximately 20,000 diabetics in the United States have a foot or leg amputated each year). Because of the effects of diabetes, diabetics are more likely than non-diabetics to have heart attacks or strokes, sexual problems, frequent infections and dental problems.

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