Living with diabetes

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by Maryam Abdul-Qawiyy

During the month of November families gather around tables of scrumptious food and have their fill-sometimes stuffing themselves more than a turkey, then comes Christmas, then the New Year. Then, imagine if you were unable to eat as you pleased because it was literally harmful to your health? Many people, such as diabetics, are faced with this dilemma all year.

Not only are diabetics prohibited and cautioned on certain food intake during the holidays, but they also run the risk of causing health problems that could be fatal. Whether a diabetic or not, learning more about this disease could assist one in understanding how to live with it or support a relative or friend.

Diabetes month increases awareness of how the disease is affecting Americans. Every 17 seconds someone is diagnosed with diabetes that is 3 people every minute. There are more diabetes cases than AIDS and cancer combined per year.

Recently the American Diabetes Association sponsored an event at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, to inform the public about diabetes. “The event is not just for the patient with diabetes but for the entire family,” said Angela Younger, a diabetic. “When you have diabetes everyone in your family has diabetes.”

Younger, a nurse practitioner, shared her personal experience of living with diabetes. “Even though I am a nurse, I am here to talk to you as a patient,” she stated during a phone interview. Younger was diagnosed with gestational diabetes in 1993, when she was 6 and a half months pregnant with her daughter. “I was devastated and hid it from my family because I was in denial. And I refused to take medication because I thought that I could fix it, especially with my background as a nurse.” After giving birth, shortly after, she was diagnosed again with type 2 diabetes.

Beth Dziengelewski, a Certified Diabetes Educator, further explained that there are not only several types of diabetes, but that there are also several forms of treatment. Type 1 diabetes happens when the body does not produce enough insulin. And therefore, a patient must inject insulin. However, some people are insulin resistant and their bodies do not respond to insulin; this leads to type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is the result of those who are insulin deficient. There are several other forms of diabetes, but all forms, if untreated can be fatal.

Unfortunately, Younger suffered a loss in her family due to diabetes. “I lost my mother from complications of having high blood sugar and I thought if something happens to me, I have no one to take care of my daughter. My mother’s death was my biggest motivation.”

Twenty six million people in Unites States have diabetes, what are their options for successfully living with disease healthfully? According to Dziengelewski, “Patients need to work closely with their health care providers and come up with a treatment plan.”

Dziengelewski suggests that the patient not only develop healthier eating habits, but also take medication; oral and injections.

“Insulin is not the only treatment for diabetes,” she said. “There are several oral medications because there are six classes of diabetes medication. All classes work in the body in a different way. One medication may work, while another patient may find multiple treatments necessary.”

When asked about her treatment plan, Younger stated, “You can live healthy and still eat what you normally eat, but it’s just a change in portions,” Younger said. “You don’t need to over extend yourself, just eat enough. Not until you feel like you want to pass out.” Younger stays active and takes all her medication on time. “Insulin was a better choice for me. Sometimes I inject 2 to 3 times a day. It depends on how many times I eat and what I eat.”

All those thanksgiving feasts and sugary desserts are filled with carbohydrates; an ingredient that if not monitored can harm diabetics. Biologically, when we eat carbohydrates, the insulin breaks it down into glucose or simple sugars, which are absorbed into the bloodstream. As sugar levels rise, the pancreas releases insulin, which removes the sugar from the bloodstream and into the cells; when in the cells, the sugar is converted into energy. However, when the pancreas is overworked, it cannot produce enough insulin and leads to health problems.

What are some signs and symptoms to take notice of? According to Dziengelewski common symptoms of being a potential diabetic include: “Extreme thirst, excessive urination during the night hours, change in vision, feeling tired, frequent headaches, and slow healing of cuts and sores.”

There are also high risk factors as well. Dziengelewski said “if you have most of these symptoms and high risk factors, such as being overweight, you’re African-American, and you have a family history of it, then you should get a physical exam to confirm.” She said the sooner one gets diagnosed the better chance he or she has of successfully living with the disease.

Here are some tips for maintaining a balanced diabetes treatment plan. First, find support. There are many support groups, not to mention family members who can be very supportive. Second, create a healthy eating regimen. Start small, not necessarily thinking of it as a diet, so as not to be overwhelm, but include non-starchy foods into the diet. Last, medication and exercise. Taking medication on time can alleviate any issue that may arise, and combined with staying active, a diabetic can lead a healthy lifestyle with less worry.

“I have to be healthy for my daughter,” Younger said. “Even though when I was diagnosed, all my focus was on her and not myself because she was born as a special needs child. But we talk often about our history and she is very informed about both her condition and my own.”

Whether one is living with the disease or knows someone who is, it is crucial to remain diligent and dedicated to one’s regimen, and with the guidance of health care professionals and support of friends and family, it is possible to live with the disease.

“I would encourage families to take a walk together after dinner and show their children how to deal with this disease,” Younger said. “By actively doing something, we show our children the importance of being informed and one day they will teach their children and families as well.”

(For more information about diabetes and treatments, visit http://www.diabetes.org.)

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