What you need to know about the diagnosis, treatment, and management of diabetes
It's estimated 37 million Americans have diabetes, with 90-95% of those people having Type 2 diabetes, specifically. Whether someone is living with Type 1, Type 2, or gestational diabetes, there's important information individuals need to know about the diagnosis, treatment, and management of the disease.
What causes diabetes?
People with diabetes are either not making insulin (or not enough of it) or the body isn't using it correctly. When this happens, sugar accumulates in the bloodstream. It's this excessive sugar that's the hallmark of diabetes. Over time, this can cause damage, but in the initial stages, someone might not even realize they're living with the condition.
"A lot of people walk around not knowing they have it because the hard part with diabetes is you don't really feel bad. Unless something feels bad, we don't typically tune into it or pay attention to it as much," said Allanna Abel, registered dietician and diabetes educator at Reid Health. "But the long-term complications of not managing your blood sugars are ultimately doing damage within organs of your body."
How is diabetes detected?
One routine blood test used to diagnose diabetes is the hemoglobin A1C test, which measures blood glucose over the past two or three months. The average result indicates whether someone is prediabetic or diabetic. Other tests that might be used include a fasting glucose test and a glucose tolerance test.
"Typically, by the time we have warning signals, we're looking more into that diabetes range. For prediabetes, there are no warning signals," said Jennifer Stachler, RDN and certified diabetes educator for Reid Health. "A majority of individuals don't even know they have prediabetes because there are no symptoms."
Anyone who has a family history of diabetes should tell their primary care provider, so the appropriate tests can be done in a proactive manner.
Treating diabetes: An individualized approach
Food management is crucial for managing one's diabetes. Carbohydrates directly affect blood sugar levels, but carbs also are not "one size fits all." The amount of carbs one person takes in throughout the day may differ from another person, but across the board, it's important to minimize refined sugars and processed foods. Dietary recommendations are individualized, which is why diabetes educators like Abel and Stachler are so helpful in a person's diabetes journey.
Exercise is another key to managing the disease, and it too is personalized to each person's needs. For example, it's a bit easier to encourage those who already are active to keep it up, but for someone who's accustomed to living a sedentary lifestyle, it can feel overwhelming to start a fitness program. Abel suggests finding activities people really enjoy.
"The key is helping them identify things they like and enjoy, just like with foods. If you do not enjoy a particular type of exercise, it does not matter how great or wonderful it might be for you. You're just not going to do it. So, we really encourage them to do anything that gets them moving a little bit more," she said.
Advancements in diabetes treatment
There have been large leaps in treating diabetes over the past decade. Nutrition and exercise do matter, but there are additional ways individuals can address their diabetes diagnosis — especially if they're doing everything they're supposed to do with diet and fitness but their blood sugars remain a concern.
Oral medications are often prescribed first, before thinking about moving toward insulin injections.
"It absolutely is going to be a different combination of therapies that work for individuals, but we keep plugging away until we get their blood sugars into healthy ranges," said Reid Health Certified Diabetes Educator Tracey Dingwerth.
Technology also has improved to make glucose monitoring and insulin delivery easier on the patient. For example, a continuous glucose monitor sits just below the skin's surface, keeping tabs on blood sugar levels 24 hours a day which makes it easier to identify what might have caused a spike.
Knowledge is power
When it comes to diabetes, knowledge really is power. The more people are informed about their condition, the better equipped they are to manage it. Reid Health offers various diabetes education and prevention classes, as well as a support group.
"I encourage anyone who has a new diagnosis of diabetes, or even if you've been living with diabetes for 20 years and it's been some time since you've had some formal education, to consider our diabetes self-management training classes," Dingwerth said.
"The more people understand about their diabetes, the more comfortable they're going to feel. And they're going to feel confident they can integrate all these different things into their life in a very usable way."
To get connected with Reid Health Diabetes and Nutrition Education, visit us here.