Preventing diabetes means making better choices
I see diabetes in my office every day.
It is the leading cause of kidney failure and has been connected to other chronic illnesses, including heart disease, stroke, erectile dysfunction, non-traumatic lower-limb amputations and blindness.
According to 2010 statistics by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diabetes affects nearly 26 million people or 8 percent of the U.S. population. Nearly 2 million people were newly diagnosed with diabetes in 2010. It now ranks as the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States.
To determine if you have the disease, there are various screening tests involving the blood and urine that you can have done at your local clinic. But more importantly, for many people it can be prevented.
In order to explain how, I first need to describe what happens inside the body of someone who has diabetes.
If you are diabetic, you have all this sugar in your blood and you are still doing everything you can to get more and more. You’re tired, hungry and thirsty because the sugar is not getting to where it is useable: your cells.
If you’re old enough, you will remember the days of locking your keys in a car. Every passerby wants to help, but no one has the solution, and no one else has a key.
You can break a window, call a locksmith or have a very expensive new key made at the dealer. All are major consequences for this minor oversight.
That’s diabetes. All the sugar stays outside of your cells because the key — insulin — is unavailable.
If you have Type I diabetes, there is no insulin because of problems with the insulin-making factory, the pancreas. No insulin is being produced, and anyone with this type of diabetes must regularly inject insulin.
It’s like buying the car without the key. You have no choice but to buy one from the dealer.
Type II diabetes is different. It can be caused by many things, like the being misplaced, stripped or damaged. In that case, you need to make lifestyle changes or take oral medications or insulin to control the diabetes.
In this case, it is an overabundance of sugar doing damage to the body, specifically the blood vessels, long before you know anything is wrong. It is slowly setting the stage for the vascular compromise that leads to the sometimes irreversible damage that we have come to associate with diabetes.
Unfortunately, while key fobs and computer chips are doing away with the problem of getting locked out of your car, there is no easy fix for diabetes.
Maybe it starts with better education. After all, most of us understand our cars better than we do our own bodies.
Maybe it requires a cultural shift. The pressure that we face as a society has led to greater consumption of processed foods and decreased cardiovascular activities.
I can continue with the maybes, but what it comes down to is, Type II diabetes is avoidable. Keeping diabetes away depends on the decisions you make for yourself.
If you get Type II diabetes, you will have to monitor your blood sugar levels, make disciplined lifestyle choices and have your primary-care physician monitor you for associated diseases, such as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and increased body weight.
Diabetes doesn’t mean doom. Many diabetics lead productive lives by implementing proper nutrition, regular cardiovascular activity and sometimes medicine. But personal choice fuels this disease and personal choice can help prevent it.
Mario Piverger is a family medicine physician at the UW-Health clinic in Fitchburg.
If you get diabetes
If you have or come down with diabetes, there are some actions you can take to keep your diabetes under control:
- Watch your Hemoglobin levels: under 6.5 and checked every three to six months
- Keep LDL cholesterol under 70 and check annually during fasting. If the level is too high, cholesterol should be checked more frequently.
- Keep Blood pressure under 130/80, checked twice a year
- Keep pre-meal blood sugars under 100
- Watch for blood sugars two hours after a meal to be under 140
- Have foot examinations during your annual exam to check for defects caused by nerve damage. Check your feet nightly before bed.
- Have an annual dilated-eye exam
- Have a dental cleaning twice a year
- Do an annual screening of kidney function through urine and blood tests
- Get a registered dietitian consultation every six to 12 months.
Get the flu vaccine annually
Get a pneumococcal vaccine.