By LEAH NESTOR
The Exponent Telegram
CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, bringing attention to a disease that affects more than 30 million Americans, of whom 25 percent don’t know they have it.
“Diabetes isn’t like crushing chest pain that sends you flying to an emergency room because you’re afraid of a heart attack or the worst headache of your life that you feel like for sure, ‘I’m having a stroke,’” said Vicki Chase, diabetes educator at West Virginia University Medicine.
West Virginia has the highest rate of incidence of Type 2 diabetes in the nation. Approximately 255,695 people in West Virginia, or 15.3 percent of adults, have diabetes while 35.9 percent have prediabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Prevention is key, Chase said.
“We now know that prediabetes can be detected in your lab work,” she said, adding that Medicare and the Center for Disease Control are pushing health care providers to recognize prediabetes because it is preventable.
In most cases, prediabetes is reversible. However, for diabetes there is no cure.
Diabetes is a disease in which the cells have become resistant to insulin, a hormone made in the body. Insulin is responsible for helping bring sugar into the cells to be used as energy. However, with a resistance to insulin, sugar stays in the blood, creating an acidic environment and damaging the body’s blood vessels.
“High sugars destroy those small blood vessels in the body. … (patients will) start to have trouble moving their feet, feeling their feet. Their feet will burn and tingle. They’ll have trouble with kidney function, and it’s not something that hurts and they know about if they don’t get the lab test. Oftentimes, you can have pretty bad kidney disease and not even be aware of it,” Chase stated.
The eyes can also be affected, along with sexual function. Uncontrolled high blood sugar is the leading cause of amputation, kidney disease requiring dialysis and blindness, Chase added. People with diabetes are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack, stroke or suffer with major depression.
“Most folks don’t put all their symptoms together to recognize that their high sugars is what caused this,” she said. “That’s why I say it’ll steal all the good things in your life.”
However, she said education makes all the difference in the world.
If patients know what diabetes is, what it does to the body and how they can manage it themselves, then they’re empowered to make changes to improve their quality of life, she said.
Awareness and education are the first steps, she indicated, adding that people have diabetes for about six years before they ever seek medical care. The beginning symptoms of diabetes can easily go overlooked — thirst, lethargy, fatigue and cuts that don’t heal.
“Our body uses sugar for fuel. So when the sugar level is high in our bloodstream, it’s doing damage to our blood vessels, but not providing us with any fuel or energy. And both symptoms aren’t things that we tell the doctor about,” she said.
Risk factors include family history, being overweight, being sedentery, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and for women having a baby that weighed more than 9 pounds. Certain races are at higher risk. African American, Hispanic, Native Alaskan, American Indian, Pacific Islander and Asian populations are more predisposed to develop diabetes and will usually have worse outcomes, Chase said.
“I think that it’s hard to know what we’re supposed to do if we don’t know what we’re dealing with,” said Dr. Lisa Costello, internal medicine physician for West Virginia University Medicine.
Once people know what diabetes is, they can begin to make conscious decisions to make choices for their own health. Education and lifestyle changes are vital components of the treatment plan, Costello added.
Patricia Cook, diabetes educator at United Hospital Center said she instructs her patients to become avid label readers.
“Many foods that claim to be “low fat” or “fat free” often contain more sodium and sugar than the full fat items in order to make the foods more palatable,” she said.
Because studies have shown sugar to be highly addictive, she encourages people to make substitutions with seasonings and herbs and drinking fruit-infused water in place of sugary beverages.
“The more we consume, the more we crave it,” she said, adding that sugar is unnecessarily added to many foods.
To monitor blood sugar levels, she said fasting glucose levels are checked — a test that can help diagnose both prediabetes and diabetes — when patients have wellness visits and annual blood work.
“However, many people do not make annual wellness appointments for follow-up with their health care providers when they are healthy, but only after they have had an illness or something emergent happens,” she added.
Once a patient discovers he/she has the disease or prediabetes and becomes educated on the condition, Costello said it is important they feel empowered they can make changes “to better their health and their life and to manage their diabetes or whatever other health condition they have.”
To learn more about diabetes education classes through West Virginia University Medicine, call 304-598-4391 and press No. 1 for Connie Kyle.
For more information on diabetes education offered through United Hospital Center, call (681) 342-1862.
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