Defeating diabetes with education

Nearly 26 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. Another 79 million have a condition known as “pre-diabetes,” which puts them at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes.

Over the last few years, there have been incidents of Type 2 diabetes found in young adults and adolescents, said Deanna Westman, Diabetes Education Coordinator of Trinity Health’s Center for Diabetes Education. Nationwide, she added, we’re hearing of a larger trend of Type 2 diabetes in younger people. “Mainly we see Type 1 diabetes in kids and young adults,” Westman said. “Type 2 diabetes is more genetically linked or brought on sooner by genetics, lack of exercise, poor food choices.”

However, Westman said there has been more of a push for families coming in to see dieticians. Health care providers are sending families to dieticians for education regarding meal planning and healthier food choices to prevent complications of obesity and one of them can be Type 2 diabetes, she added. The foundation of Type 2 diabetes prevention and management is lifestyle change, Westman continued. “We see a lot of progress with patients that work on changing their activities like exercising, making healthier food choices and managing stress.”

The trend in childhood obesity may be cause for younger people developing Type 2 diabetes, Westman thought. “With obesity, they run a higher risk of having insulin resistance and if they have it (Type 2 diabetes) in their family, they run a higher risk,” she said. “And when you mix in lack of exercise and poor food choices, that puts them at higher risk.” Westman said teaching families and kids about appropriate portion sizes, better food choices and the importance of regular physical activity is where it needs to start. “And that’s for all kids, not just those having weight issues,” she added. “They need to know the basics for living a healthier lifestyle.”

Additionally, health-care providers are screening more for Type 2 diabetes in kids and those who are more at risk and education is being done earlier, Westman said. “Thankfully, we haven’t seen a lot of kids (with Type 2 diabetes) because we’re working on prevention and schools are teaching about nutrition and that’s where it needs to start, at elementary schools and at home,” she added.

No matter if the person is a child or adult, Westman said they need to know their risk factors for diabetes. They need to know if they’re diagnosed with pre-diabetes or if their provider says the person’s blood glucose levels are being watched or the provider suggests lifestyle changes, she continued, then they need to come to the diabetes center for education to prevent Type 2 diabetes or delay the onset. “Education is the key.”

Pre-diabetes is a term used when you have more sugar (glucose) in your blood than normal, but not enough to be diagnosed with diabetes. Glucose comes from the food you eat and is the body’s main source of fuel. If you have pre-diabetes, you are at risk for serious health problems, like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Most people probably won’t notice any signs or symptoms of pre-diabetes.

Signs and symptoms of diabetes include being very thirsty or hungry; feeling tired for no reason; urinating more than usual; losing weight for no reason; having sores that are slow to heal; having trouble seeing or blurred vision; or losing feeling or having tingling in your hands or feet. Not everyone who has diabetes has these signs, however, and these signs and symptoms are more for adults and will be different for children. If you have any of these signs or think you may be at risk, it’s suggested that you see your health-care provider for a blood glucose test.

Risk factors for diabetes include obesity, physical inactivity, family history of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, you’re 45 years or older, African-Americans, Asian/Pacific Islanders, Latinos, American Indian/Alaska Natives, and giving birth to a baby weighing more than nine pounds.

To reduce the risk of developing diabetes, the American Diabetes Association and the North Dakota Department of Health recommend maintaining a healthy weight, eating a nutritious diet including five fruits and vegetables daily, engaging in regular physical activity and refraining from smoking.

“Diabetes is a serious disease that can lead to heart attacks, strokes, amputation, blindness, kidney failure and nerve damage,” Westman said. “The good news is that people with diabetes can reduce their risk for complications if they are educated about their disease, practice daily self-management and have regular checkups with a healthcare provider.”

“It’s important to know what the signs and symptoms and risk factors of diabetes are,” Westman said. “Catching it early, getting regular screenings and physicals. Sometimes there aren’t a lot of signs and symptoms or they’re vague.” Knowing what your normal blood sugars are and what they should be are also important, she said. “Be aware of what factors affect your blood sugar,” Westman added.

Stress hugely affects blood sugar and will make your body more resistant to insulin, Westman said. It can be physical stress like pain or illness, as well as emotional or mental stress like from work or family or a life-changing event, she added. People with a cold or flu will see an increase in blood sugar or if they’re in pain, Westman also said. “Stress affects your body a lot.”

Westman said there are advancements in treatment of diabetes all the time and recommends people come in to see her or her other colleagues at the diabetes center regularly. “Even if you have had education in the past, it’s good to stay up to date on what’s happening in advancement and treatment,” she added.

In December, Westman said “Keys to Success,” an education series, will be starting and will take place once a month. A new topic will be presented each month to give people more information on topics such as preventing complications of diabetes, healthy eating, physical activity, eye care and foot care, she added. People interested can contact the Center for Diabetes Education office at 857-5268 for dates, times or more information.

“We want patients to know everything there is to know about this disease and how to manage it,” Westman said.