By Cmdr. Julie Lundstad, diabetes nurse educator, Naval Hospital Jacksonville
November is American Diabetes Month and this year’s focus raises awareness to the ever-growing incidence of diabetes and directs attention to issues surrounding the disease, the many people it impacts and resources to help people with diabetes manage it.
Diabetes is a group of diseases characterized by high blood glucose (sugar) levels that result from defects in the body’s ability to produce and/or use insulin—the hormone needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy to sustain the body each day.
The latest statistics about the “diabetes epidemic” in the U.S. are staggering: Nearly 26 million have diabetes, with an additional 79 million having prediabetes—glucose levels that are higher than normal.
Type 1 diabetes is when the body does not produce insulin, due to an autoimmune process which destroys the insulin producing cells of the pancreas, and usually occurs before 40 years of age. Type 2—the most common form of diabetes—is due either to the lack of insulin production and/or the cells are not reacting to insulin. Risk factors include obesity, race/ethnicity and family history. Gestational is when pregnant women show signs of high blood glucose levels, usually around the 24th week of pregnancy.
Sadly, many children are developing what was formerly called “adult onset” type 2 diabetes because they are overweight and don’t get enough exercise.
Early detection and treatment of diabetes can decrease the risk of developing complications. Common symptoms are frequent urination, feeling of thirst, extreme fatigue and blurry vision.
The estimated national cost of diagnosed diabetes in the U.S. was approximately $245 billion in 2012, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA).
The ADA has begun a socially focused initiative, “A Day in the Life of Diabetes,” which demonstrates the impact of diabetes on U.S. families and communities. For diabetes educators like myself, I speak with people everyday who are dealing with diabetes, a 24/7, 365 days a year disease.
I recently had an older lady—who has had diabetes for 10 years—say to me, as she cried in my office, that she “felt like diabetes had invaded her life.” Her feelings reflect the significant impact diabetes can have on a person’s life.
As a certified diabetes educator since 2003, I spend hours educating patients and their families about diabetes. But equally important to providing educational information, is to just listen: Listen to the ongoing challenges diabetic patients face in maintaining control of their blood sugar levels and incorporating self-management tasks—such as blood glucose monitoring and medications—into their daily lives.
Consequences for not taking this disease serious can result in serious or life-threatening complications such as heart disease, high blood pressure, blindness, kidney disease and lower-limb amputation.
Denial about the diagnosis of diabetes is common. It often leads healthcare providers to think some patients don’t take their diabetes, or the potential complications, seriously. This may be partly due to the fact that diabetes symptoms aren’t painful—like chest pain with a heart attack. Most people feel fine, even with elevated blood sugar levels.
We must continue to find ways to educate and empower high-risk populations and provide people with tools they need to lead healthier lives. Learning about diabetes is the first step towards feeling better and living longer.
For more information about American Diabetes Month, go to www.diabetes.org or talk to your primary care manager.