There are more than 25.8 million people living with diabetes in the U.S., according to the CDC. They also say that adds up to just more than eight percent of our total population. It’s a tricky disease to manage and an expensive one, with a total annual cost of $2 billion. More startling? Eighty percent of cases are reversible, but that part is up to you.
If you’re one of the nearly two million newly diagnosed cases of diabetes each year, it can be worrisome, to say the least. The word strikes fear in those who have it, and worry in their loved ones. Life as you know it seemingly changes in an instance. But that’s OK. It’s a hard reality check to follow, but one that can literally save your life.
With Dr. Sarah G. Khan, our resident pharmacist and diabetes education expert, we’ve created your one-stop guide to diabetes for new patients. We’ll answer your questions, provide you with resources, and give you options to manage or reverse your disease.
1. Do you want to manage or correct your diabetes?
“I think diabetes is a combination of both managing and correcting,” explained Dr. Khan. “There are other factors such as illness and stress that raise blood sugars which aren’t always under a person’s control.” Ask yourself which path you want to take.
If you want to manage…
Management of diabetes requires you to use resources and ask questions, but take responsibility for your own health. The medication is not going to solve the problem if you continue to make poor food choices or stay sedentary. Take your medication as you’ve been instructed by your doctor and pharmacist, but let your doctor know if you are experiencing any major side effects. There are a lot of choices for oral medication and the gold standard, such as Metformin, might not be the right choice for you.
If you want to correct…
Studies have shown that losing as little as 7% of your body weight has a huge reduction on your A1C% and average blood sugar readings. Once you have reached your goal weight, exercise is the best way to help maintain the loss as it increases your body’s sensitivity to its own insulin and helps you use it more efficiently. This route is a total lifestyle change, but the results are worth it.
2. Who to call?
Start by getting a medical ID bracelet that includes your personal information, alerting people to your diabetic status and an emergency (ICE) number. On speed dial, or saved readily available in your cell phone, should be the numbers of both your
primary care provider and/or endocrinologist and your diabetes educator.
3. How your family can help.
Choose at least one close family member or friend to train to help you in case you become unconscious, for example, in case of a low blood sugar episode. Your spouse, child, or close friends are great options, and they will know who to call and what to do. The person would need to know not to give orange juice as it would be a choking hazard, and how to administer a glucagon injection.
4. Organizations to reach out to for support.
Insurance may cover classes through a local hospital on nutrition and management of diabetes through a certified diabetes educator. The ADA, or American Diabetes Association, is the organization that has the most ability to help you. They can provide information and direct you to support groups.
Look for events like Walk to Stop Diabetes and Tour de Cure, available at Diabetes.org, which offer great ways to connect with other diabetics.
5. Questions for and how to handle insurance.
Call member services and find out what is actually covered regarding your case of diabetes. Ask both your insurance companies and employers about discounts on gym memberships, nutrition programs, etc. through corporate wellness programs that you can take advantage of. When you’re well, their expenses go down. Everyone wins.
6. What a diabetic diet looks like.
There isn’t one set plan for diabetes. If a nutritionist told you to eat just chicken and vegetables everyday and you hate vegetables you wouldn’t stick to that plan. The DASH Diet is routinely named one of the best eating plans for diabetics. Two years running, The Biggest Loser Diet has been named the best diet for diabetics, as praised by US News and World Report. As well, the Mediterranean Diet has been lauded as an effective dietary approach. Work closely with your doctor, dietitian, and/or diabetes educator to ensure you’re prepared to manage the best diet plan for your needs.
While there is no absolute do not eat food, you should try to avoid baked goods, processed foods, candies and sweets, and fried foods. Follow guidelines for moderation and serving size.
7. How a diabetic works out.
Thirty minutes most days of the week of cardiovascular exercise is recommended. Every other day is best to maintain an increase in insulin sensitivity. Discuss with your doctor what would be most appropriate. For those who need low-impact fitness, consider walking, swimming or biking. If you’re cleared for more intense exercise, try weight training 2-3 days per week alternating major muscle groups, completing 1-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions. Flexibility training such as yoga or Pilates is another good choice to help with balance, core strength, and even stress relief and improved sleep.
Test your blood sugar before you exercise and bring a small snack with mainly carbohydrates so sugar doesn’t drop too low. Examples are four ounces of juice or a small piece of fruit.
8. If you smoke, it’s time to quit.
Diabetics are already at a higher risk of heart attack and stroke, and smoking just exacerbates this risk. Talk to your doctor about options for quitting, and she may be able to prescribe something like Chantix or Zyban. Your doctor may also prescribe an over-the-counter option like nicotine patches or gum. This is where pharmacists are very helpful, as many are trained in smoking cessation.
If affording these options is a problem, reach out to smoking cessation programs that are required to be offered by your state. They often provide these resources free of charge, along with counseling and other support.
9. What else?
Make educating yourself a top priority. You must learn how your body works, because what may apply to one person may not be best for you. Be proactive about communicating with your physician, health care team, and caregivers, because the more they know the more help you’ll have to successfully reach your goals. Call 1-800-DIABETES (800-342-2383) or visit Diabetes.org to find a chapter in your area to start getting the help and support you need.
10. Choose to do nothing, and this is what the future holds.
Type 2 diabetes is a disease that carries many risks. Choose to ignore the disease, neglect your treatment course, or opt out of necessary lifestyle changes, and risk for complications increases over time. Diabetics have increased risk of UTIs and yeast infections because excess sugar is spilling into the kidneys. Kidney problems that could lead to dialysis and eventual need for a kidney transplant are also a possibility. You could face hospitalizations due to high blood sugars that may lead to coma. Vision problems that could lead to blindness are another factor. And wounds that won’t heal could lead to amputations.