EDITOR’S NOTE — This column is provided courtesy of the Oklahoma State Medical Association. It is one in an ongoing series of columns written by Oklahoma physicians in an attempt to provide their fellow Oklahomans with more information on a range of health topics.
November is National Diabetes Month; however, for almost a half-million Oklahomans, every day is diabetes day. In fact, according to the American Diabetes Association, over 451,000 Oklahomans have diabetes and more than a million are pre-diabetic.
Diabetes is a disease that tends to complicate other health issues. For example, not only are diabetics almost twice as likely to die from stroke or heart diseases than those without diabetes, but they are at a higher risk for kidney disease, high blood pressure, skin ailments and vision problems. In particular, take good care of your feet, checking them daily for sores or cuts as complications from diabetes can contribute to dangerous infections.
The percentage of Oklahomans with diabetes has grown significantly in recent years, climbing from 2.9 percent in 1996 to an estimated 14.3 percent today. As our state continues this negative trend, it’s important that we all recognize the causes of this serious disease as well as take steps to prevent and control diabetes.
The latest science indicates genetics can play a role in the development of both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. However, the two have differences in regard to symptoms and causes. For example, both diseases result in high sugar levels, however, those with Type 1 diabetes don’t produce insulin at all, while those with Type 2 diabetes can produce insulin, but the body may not be able to produce enough or use it effectively.
Type 1 diabetes is not preventable, but complications can be controlled by closely monitoring blood sugar, taking medicine, exercising and following a recommended diet. A much more common form of diabetes, Type 2 is often caused by a combination of lifestyle and family history.
Common symptoms for diabetes include frequent urination and thirst, extreme fatigue, blurry vision, cuts and bruises that are slow to heal, unusual weight loss (Type 1) or tingling, pain or numbness in hands or feet (Type 2).
The best way to check your risk for this disease is to ask your doctor for an A1C blood test. This test offers a picture of your blood sugar levels over the past two or three months, and the level of blood sugar found can indicate whether you have normal sugar levels, are pre-diabetic or even diabetic.
If you are pre-diabetic, I encourage you to visit with your physician about diabetes prevention and lifestyle changes that can help lower or control your blood sugar. Symptoms can be controlled by eating a diet low in sugar and carbohydrates, exercising, maintaining a healthy weight and if needed, medication.
If you have already been diagnosed with diabetes, diet and exercise are still vital, but you must also monitor your blood sugar and insulin levels regularly. Fortunately, this has become easier with recent technological advances such as continuous glucose monitoring meters and insulin pumps.
Diabetes is manageable with the right care plan in place. As always, if you have questions, visit with your primary care physician and others on your diabetes care team, such as your endocrinologist, dentist and ophthalmologist.
Susan Hull, M.D., is an internal medicine physician based in Waynoka and is co-chair of the Oklahoma State Medical Association’s Rural Section.