A Silent Stalker

May 06, 2014

The first symptoms may be barely noticeable. Perhaps you are a little thirsty. Perhaps you have to urinate more often. Perhaps you seem hungry more often, even shortly after eating. Maybe you lost some weight without trying. (Why worry about that? That’s a good thing, isn’t it?) Maybe you gained some weight, although you didn’t think you were eating more. You often feel fatigued even though you are sleeping well, but that is to be expected. After all, you are getting older and you have a busy schedule.  

Yes, at first the symptoms are very quiet and not too bothersome. Yet all the while, a disease related to these symptoms is developing. Suddenly, one day, your thirst becomes outrageous. Or perhaps you are hungry all the time even after you eat. You seem to need to use the bathroom all the time. On occasion, your vision seems blurry.  You have headaches. You are tired, so tired, yet you have been doing a lot of sleeping. Your feet lose feeling or you get a tingling sensation. Your skin is very dry. You have a sore that is taking forever to heal.

These symptoms, which can be very silent at first, gradually make themselves known to a point where you can’t ignore them anymore. These are symptoms of diabetes, known as a silent killer, because it begins slowly and often unnoticeably, while silently  affecting your organs and your health. The good news is that if you heed these warning signs and take steps to reduce the symptoms, you can slow down (or perhaps halt) the damage that this disease can do to your heart, kidneys and vision.

You can fight back. You have the power to prevent heart attacks and strokes by controlling your diabetes. The better the control, the less the damage. 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. (These values may vary slightly. Check with your doctor for your 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 that 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 one that works best for you is 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.

Diabetes can lead to blindness, heart attacks, strokes and the loss of limbs. But 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.mayoclinic.org and www.webmd.com, keyword diabetes. You can hone in on a particular subject within the category. 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 or email dculligan@qvhd.org.