If caught early, diabetes is much easier to control

Herald Health CorrespondentJune 25, 2013 

Local experts give advice on screening, management

If you have diabetes, you know how it can feel like a full-time job when you're trying to stay healthy. Let your guard down and diabetes can become a stealthy disease with the potential to steal your vision, and cause heart attacks and wounds that won't heal.

The cornerstone of treatment for the most common type of diabetes -- Type 2 -- is what is hardest for many to achieve: Turning around lifestyle habits by eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise.

Also, keeping diabetes in check means frequent self-monitoring of blood sugar levels and knowing what causes them to spike or plummet.

Since diabetes must be self-managed -- your doctor won't be there when you're deciding what to eat -- it pays to learn all you can.

Two places to find diabetes self-management classes, open to anyone with diabetes, are Manatee Memorial Hospital and Blake Medical Center.

Meanwhile, here is some advice from Bradenton health experts who work with diabetics and information from the American Diabetes Association about the importance of screening tests and how to manage.

Get tested

Of the millions of Americans who now have diabetes, nearly a third don't know it. Warning signs are excess thirst, frequent urination and fatigue, among others, but these can occur gradually and go unnoticed.

Caught early, diabetes is much easier to control and in some instances can be reversed, said Florey Miller, a local dietitian and diabetes educator. Miller leads diabetes classes for Manatee County government employees.

"It doesn't have to be hard to control diabetes if ... it's diagnosed at the very beginning," said Miller.

But diabetes can get out of control for some people before they even have a chance to work on it, she said. These are the ones who don't know they have diabetes, sometimes for years.

The American Diabetes Association recommends adults older than 45 consider routine diabetes screenings, especially if they are overweight and sedentary. Others who should consider testing: People younger than 45 who are overweight or obese and have risk factors such as a family history of diabetes or conditions such as high blood pressure.

Women who have given birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds or who had gestational diabetes during pregnancy also are at higher risk for developing diabetes.

Stop progression

Another advantage of early testing is being able to forestall diabetes before it happens. High blood sugar levels are the hallmark of diabetes, but they creep up slowly.

A condition known as pre-diabetes is a window of opportunity if you know you have it. Pre-diabetes occurs when blood glucose is higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as diabetes.

Studies have shown there is a good chance blood sugar levels can return to normal for people with pre-diabetes who lose just five to 10 percent of their weight and take a brisk 30-minute walk most days of the week.

Adopt a healthy lifestyle

The advice for diabetics -- lose weight, eat a healthy diet and exercise -- could apply to anyone who wants to be healthy.

But for diabetics, it's essential. After diabetes is diagnosed, people usually meet with a dietitian or other health-care professional to learn about how to eat and why they need to exercise.

Exercise is often the biggest challenge, said Bradenton dietitian Susan Schussler, who will be teaching diabetes classes at Manatee Memorial.

"They're more apt to have changed their diet. Exercise is the one they fell down on the most," she said.

Schussler recommends going for a short walk about 15 to 20 minutes after a meal. Blood glucose levels rise after eating and exercise will help them come down.

"It really helps -- muscles will use glucose for energy," said Schussler.

A healthy diet means concentrating on whole foods such as fruits and vegetables, said Miller, plus less fatty protein, fewer treats and more healthy fats like olive oil.

She recommends following guidelines for a healthy plate. Fill half the plate with fruits and vegetables, a quarter with lean protein and a quarter with whole grains.

Take charge: The healthiest patients are the ones who take responsibility for their own health and know the right questions to ask, said Bradenton family physician Laura Hershorin.

She is starting diabetes self-management classes at her medical practice, the Sarasota Center for Family Health and Wellness.

"We're in the process of setting them up because it's important to understand and know what's going on," said Hershorin.

"There is so much happening with diabetes that doesn't involve medicine."


Diabetes self-management classes are held at:

• Manatee Memorial Hospital, 206 2nd St. E., Bradenton. A four-week class is starting July 8. Class times are 2- 4 p.m. Cost is $25 for workbook. Call 941-708-8100 to register.

• Blake Medical Center, 2020 59th St. W., Bradenton. Call 941-798-6135 for dates and times.

Susan Hemmingway, Herald health correspondent, can be reached at shemmingway@hotmail.com.

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