Millions Have It But Don't Know It

September 05, 2017

Excessive thirst; frequent urination; hungry all the time; weight loss without dieting; tired all the time, even after sleeping; blurry vision; dry skin; sores that are slow to heal; more frequent infections or colds than would be expected for a healthy person…all these can be signs of diabetes which is a leading cause of death and disability  in the U.S. (cdc.gov)

When diagnosed early, complications from diabetes can be minimized or prevented. The problem is that you can have diabetes for a long time before you are aware of the illness. It is different than when you have the flu or a cold, because with those illnesses you know you are sick. Without you knowing it, the diabetes is causing damage to your body and can affect your heart (causing heart attacks or stroke), your teeth, or lead to blindness, kidney failure and lower-extremity amputations.

The symptoms of diabetes at first can be very quiet and not too bothersome. This is why it is often called “the silent killer.” Overtime, these symptoms will gradually make themselves known to the point where you can’t and shouldn’t ignore them anymore.  

There is no cure for diabetes but it can be managed to prevent further damage.  First you should know your numbers. The National Diabetes Education Program has a slogan “Control the ABCs of Diabetes.” The “A” stands for the A1C test, which measures your average blood glucose (sugar) over the last three months. The “B” is for blood pressure. High blood pressure makes you heart work too hard. The “C” is for cholesterol. Bad cholesterol, or LDL, builds up and clogs your arteries. For most persons with diabetes, the goal numbers for the “ABCs” are: the A1C should be below 7, blood pressure should be below 130/80 and the LDL cholesterol should be below 100 and closer to 70. (These values are averages. Check with your doctor for your specific goal values.)

To achieve these goals, you must take action! Diet is, of course, a critical component of control. You should be measuring your blood sugar level with a home glucose monitor to see if what you are eating is keeping your blood sugar at desirable levels. It should also be checked by a lab every 3-6 months. In addition to eating well, you should increase your exercise. Exercise helps you body to utilize the foods you eat. Other actions include losing some weight (even modest weight loss can make a big difference.) If you smoke, you should stop (but you know that already.) The more actions you take, the better your chances of minimizing the effects of this disease.

It is likely that if you are diagnosed with diabetes and you cannot control it with lifestyle changes, you will have to take some form of medication. It may be an oral drug or it may be an injectable drug or a combination.  Different drugs may be tried until the ones that work best for you are established. What is critical is that you need to take these drugs even after the symptoms go away. Often, they are taken for the rest of your life. This may be discouraging to some people but these drugs are protecting your health against the damage that high blood sugar can cause.

While diabetes can lead to blindness, heart attacks, kidney failure, strokes and the loss of limbs, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can live a long, healthy life if you make changes and take the disease seriously. There is a lot of information on the internet about living with diabetes. Some reputable websites for information include: www.diabetes.org, www.nlm.nih.gov, www.cdc.gov, www.niddk.nih.gov and the mayoclinic.org. If you do not have internet access and would like written information on diabetes, district residents (Bethany, Hamden, North Haven and Woodbridge) can call QVHD, 203 248-4528.