A new diabetes diagnosis can feel overwhelming. It is important for patients to become committed to the new self-care regimen that diabetes requires. This Q&A with offers some tips on how to get started.
What is diabetes? How is it managed?
Insulin, a hormone in our bodies, keeps our blood glucose (sugars in the blood) at a healthy level. Diabetes is a condition where there is a lack of insulin or the insulin isn’t working well, and too much glucose collects in the blood.
There are two types of diabetes. In Type 1 diabetes, the body cannot create insulin. This condition typically occurs earlier in life and is best managed by an endocrinologist. In Type 2 diabetes, the body develops a relative lack of or resistance to insulin. This usually occurs later in life and can be due to many things, but most often, the cause is an overabundance of fat tissue and being overweight or obese.
Diabetes is controlled with medications, by monitoring your blood sugars and by making lifestyle changes in diet, exercise and weight management.
How can a patient start to understand a type 2 diabetes diagnosis?
Your doctor and care team will guide your care and can point you to classes and support groups. I also recommend the great resources at the American Diabetes Association website as a way to get started.
It’s also easier to be motivated when you understand the value of making certain lifestyle changes. These changes all play a role in keeping you healthy and your diabetes under control:
- Losing weight (decreasing excess body mass and fat cells) allows your body to regulate blood sugar more efficiently.
- Eating healthier and reducing your intake of carbohydrates and refined sugars decreases the amount of blood sugar the body must regulate.
- Increasing cardiovascular exercise burns calories and increases the body’s metabolism, empowering it to use up any excess sugar that might turn into fat tissue.
It sounds easy to feel overwhelmed! How does a patient commit to these new demands of self-care?
It’s not easy, but these demands become manageable (and natural) once you realize that these lifestyle changes will result not only in better blood sugar control, but also prevent the development of many other health conditions, leading to a healthier and happier you. I encourage my patients to take an active role in their care by doing some research, being disciplined with their medications and lifestyle, and asking questions when needed.
Any tips for the best way to partner with your primary care provider?
Your primary care doctor should help you understand the state of your diabetes—Is it controlled? uncontrolled? Is diabetes currently affecting other parts of my body?—and give you the tools and education to help manage it.
A good way to help your doctor is to keep a log of the foods you eat throughout the day and the activities you do. This way, your doctor can cater their advice to your particular situation. For example, if you tell your doctor that you eat pasta five times per week, he or she can make specific recommendations as to how much pasta or the type of pasta you should be eating. This will be more useful than a general instruction to “reduce your carbohydrate intake.”
Ask your primary care doctor what other care you might need. This might involve vaccines, annual eye and dental exams, foot care—all important for preventing and monitoring complications from diabetes.
What are some signs that a patient should seek medical help?
While lowering the blood sugar to normal levels is important in diabetes, blood sugar that is too low (hypoglycemia) can be dangerous and even deadly. It’s important to watch for signs of hypoglycemia such as shaking, lightheadedness, nausea and sweating—and if you develop them, check your blood sugar levels right away. If they are low, follow the plan that your doctor and you have created to address this situation. If hypoglycemia happens regularly, let your doctor know right away right away so they can adjust your treatment.
Primary and specialty care at nine PacMed clinics.
You can find diabetes care and classes at our Lynnwood, Northgate and Canyon Park clinics.