Living with Diabetes: Read Alice's Story
"The reason obesity leads to diabetes is because it causes insulin-resistance."
A diabetes diagnosis can be an opportunity to take control of your health.
Diabetes occurs when the pancreas produces little or no insulin, causing glucose to build up and resulting in uncontrolled blood sugar.
Noticing symptoms is essential to early detection. "When the blood sugar becomes too high for too long, people experience increased thirst, frequent urination, unexplained weight loss, and fatigue," says H. Howard Goldstein, MD, FACE, an RWJ Hamilton endocrinologist.
It's important to share these symptoms with your primary care physician, who is usually able to diagnose diabetes during a routine examination. Often times, a physician refers the patient to an endocrinologist, a specialist with expertise in the metabolic system.
"People should see an endocrinologist if they are having trouble controlling their blood sugar," advises Goldstein.
Obesity a Major Factor
The most common form, Type 2 diabetes, "is a complex form of inherited genetic problems, which include diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and an increased risk of heart disease," explains Goldstein.
A major risk factor for developing Type 2 diabetes is obesity. "The reason obesity leads to diabetes is because it causes insulin-resistance," says Goldstein. "As the number of people with obesity has increased, the incidence of diabetes has increased in proportion."
As diabetes is an ever-evolving condition, an endocrinologist is especially helpful in managing treatment and avoiding complications. "The higher the content of blood sugar and the longer it's elevated, the greater the chance someone has of developing complications," says Goldstein. These include heart disease, stroke, vision loss, kidney failure, and nerve damage in the hands, legs or feet.
People with diabetes were once advised to increase their intake of carbohydrates, but the opposite is now known to be true. Today, new and improved oral and insulin medications are available and patients are advised to avoid excessive alcohol, and to take daily multivitamins and pain medication when needed.
An important part of managing Type 2 diabetes is exercise, according to Goldstein. "People can reduce the amount of medication needed by losing at least seven percent of their body weight." This can be achieved by cutting down on snacks, eating smaller portions, avoiding fatty foods, and eating healthier foods such as fruits and vegetables.
"To improve your quality of life, eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and stay fit, and make sure to take medication every day resulting in a normal blood sugar, normal blood pressure and normal cholesterol value," Goldstein says.
Alice Eilers doesn't have the time to let something like diabetes get in the way of enjoying her activities.
Retired for more than a dozen years from her New York City teaching job, Alice is extremely active as a Boy Scouts unit commissioner, singing in her church choir, teaching piano, and attending aquatic exercise classes.
"As far as I'm concerend," she says, "diabetes is something you can very easily live with as long as you are vigilant and take good care of yourself."
Alice was diagnosed with gestational diabetes while pregnant with her daughter. Her initial symptoms disappeared, but returned shortly after giving birth to her son. He doctor prescribed insulin when a combined regimen of oral medications and diet failed.
Living with diabetes has forced Alice to become digilent about maintaining her blood sugar levels, evaluating herself four times daily using a blood glucose meter.
After losing 70 pounds through diet and exercise, Alice has changed her lifestyle and reduced her dependence on insulin by two-thirds. "Losing this weight has really helped my diabetes a great deal because I'm taking a lot less insulin," she says. "I didn't take too much heed for a while. Now I take it seriously and I seem to be doing even better."
Although Alice maintains a positive attitude, she has had to adjust with diabetes. She was diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy, a condition that produces extra blood vessels on the retina that, when left untreated, can burst and cause clots. Alice later had 19 laser treatments that saved her eyesight. She also underwent a cardiac catherization when she failed a stress test.
Yet having diabetes has not discouraged Alice from one of her greatest joys, traveling. She has visited all seven continents and plans on visiting Japan and Egypt in the coming years.
"I even took a trip to Antarctica. I don't let my diabetes stop me in any way," she says. "I take my insulin and my meter along with me."