0 Comments | November 12, 2013
Imagine being told you have diabetes. What do you think your first reaction would be? If you say fear, you’re not alone. Learning that you have diabetes can be frightening, especially if you’ve witnessed the disease’s devastating consequences. Because November is American Diabetes Month, it’s important to increase your awareness of this steadily-rising disease by taking steps to better understand its causes and how it can be effectively managed.
According to the American Diabetes Association, in the United States alone, nearly 26 million children and adults have diabetes. Another 79 million have pre-diabetes (abnormally high blood sugars but not high enough to be considered diabetes) and are at risk for developing type II diabetes. The cost of diagnosed diabetes to our healthcare system is an alarming $245 billion.1 These statistics are just one of the reasons that understanding diabetes is so critical.
Causes of Type II Diabetes
Glucose, a fancy word for sugar, is derived from two sources – the foods you eat and your liver. It is your body’s primary source of energy. Before your body can utilize glucose, it must move from your blood stream into your cells. Insulin, a hormone naturally produced by the pancreas, enables this process to occur, thus lowering the amount of circulating glucose in your blood stream. Once your blood sugar drops, so does the secretion of insulin from your pancreas.2
Type II diabetes develops when your body becomes resistant to insulin or your body stops producing sufficient amounts of it. Although the exact cause of why this happens is unknown, being overweight and having a sedentary lifestyle are thought to greatly contribute to it.2
Risk Factors for Type II Diabetes
Why some people develop type II diabetes and others don’t remains somewhat of a mystery. From what we do know, the following factors may increase your risk:2
- Being overweight.
- Being inactive.
- Having a family history of diabetes.
- Being African-American, Hispanic, American Indian or Asian-American.
- Being over 45 years of age.
- Having pre-diabetes or a history of gestational diabetes when you were pregnant.
Managing Type II Diabetes: An 8-Step Process
Uncontrolled type II diabetes can lead to serious complications, including blindness, kidney failure and loss of limbs. Once you’ve been diagnosed, controlling your blood sugar should become a central theme in your everyday life; after all, it is the key to living a life free from diabetes complications.
Here are 8 steps you can take to help you achieve ultimate blood sugar control:2
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet – Eating the right amount of nutritious foods, at the right time, is paramount to diabetes management. To keep your blood sugars from fluctuating, try to eat (and snack) at the same time every day. Talk to your healthcare provider about including the right mix of starch, protein, fruits, vegetables and fats at every meal. Read food labels to determine appropriate portion sizes for each type of food you eat. Use measuring cups and/or a food scale to get a handle on actual portion sizes.
- Coordinate meals with medication – Diabetes medication is meant to lower your blood sugar. Not eating enough when taking diabetes medication – especially insulin – may result in hypoglycemia (dangerously low blood sugar). On the other hand, eating too much can have the opposite effect on your blood sugar, resulting in too high blood sugar, or hyperglycemia. As a general rule, plan to eat about thirty minutes after taking your diabetes medication. It’s also a good idea to eat a snack at bedtime to keep your blood sugar from plummeting while you sleep, especially if you take diabetes medication at night. For more information on how to coordinate meals with medication, talk to your healthcare provider.
- Increase your physical activity – Regular exercise can have a profound, lowering effect on your blood sugar. It may also improve the way your body responds to insulin. Talk to your healthcare provider about what type of exercise program will benefit you the most and the best time of day for you to exercise. Check your blood sugar before, during and after you exercise, especially if you take diabetes medication. If not contraindicated, drink plenty of fluids during exercise as being dehydrated can affect your blood sugar. Feeling shaky, weak, lightheaded, anxious, confused or hungry are warning signs of hypoglycemia. Keep a snack or glucose pill with you during exercise if you notice any of these symptoms. Talk to your healthcare provider about adjusting your diabetes medication in response to an increase in exercise.
- Be religious about checking your blood sugar – How often you check your blood sugar generally depends on how well-controlled – or uncontrolled – it is. Your diabetes management team will provide you with detailed instructions on when, and how often, you should check your blood sugar. If you are a new diabetic, you may have to check your blood sugar more often until you get it under control. Once well-controlled, checking it less often is generally acceptable.
- Take your blood sugar medication as prescribed – When diet and exercise alone is not effective in lowering your blood sugar, your healthcare provider may prescribe oral or injectable diabetes medication. It’s vitally important that you become familiar with your diabetes medications, including how to properly store them, how they affect your blood sugar and how taking other medications – both prescribed and over-the-counter – may interact with them. Talk to your health care provider or pharmacist for more information.
- Understand how illness affects your blood sugar – Being sick can have a dramatic effect on your blood sugar. It’s not uncommon, for example, to need more diabetes medication during times of illness. Work with your health care provider to create a sick-day plan that includes adjustments to your medication and when you should call the doctor. If you’re unable to eat because of nausea and vomiting and you’re taking diabetes medication, call your doctor right away as she may recommend temporarily stopping your diabetes medication to prevent hypoglycemia.
- Avoid alcohol – Drinking alcohol can result in abnormally low blood sugars shortly after it’s consumed and for up to twelve hours thereafter. If possible, it’s best to eliminate alcohol completely from your diet. However, if you do choose to drink, first get the approval from your health care provider.
- Reduce stress – The hormones your body produces in response to stress can prevent insulin from working the way it should, thus causing your blood sugar to escalate. Additionally, when you’re stressed-out you’re more likely to abandon your regular diabetes management routine. Keep a log of your stress levels in the same place you log your blood sugars. Notice any emerging patterns and discuss them with your health care provider. To better manage stress, set limits and prioritize tasks. Practice relaxation techniques on a regular basis, such as meditation and guided imagery.
Author: Deborah Leader RN, BSN, PHN
1 The American Diabetes Association. American Diabetes Month. 2013.
2 The Mayo Clinic. Type II Diabetes. January 25, 2013.