Diabetes Strikes Often, But Disease Can Be Managed
Every 20 seconds - that's how often someone is diagnosed with diabetes.
That's 4,320 people every day; 30,240 each week.
In the United States, nearly 24 million children and adults have diabetes. At least 57 million more are at risk for type 2 diabetes alone.
The numbers are staggering, but what do they mean? And why should you take the time to learn more?
The answer is simple: Because you don't want to become the next number. To stay healthy, you need to take care of yourself. That means understanding the risks of diabetes and knowing what you can do to help prevent the disease, FirstHealth said in a news release.
November is American Diabetes Awareness Month, the perfect time to take a few minutes to learn more about the disease and why you should work hard to protect yourself.
West End resident Patricia Moore can tell you why. Diagnosed at age 9 and now 39, Moore admittedly did not manage her diabetes.
"I was hard-headed," she says. "I thought I could live my life just like everybody else. The diabetes showed me otherwise."
Complications from diabetes have now taken a toll on Moore's health.
"I have had a heart attack and two strokes," she says. "I am in renal failure. I only have one eye and, after years of eating the wrong foods, it's now hard for me to eat at all. I'm lucky it's not worse."
About six years ago, after a number of hospitalizations and serious health issues, Moore decided to get serious about controlling her diabetes.
"You may not be able to change that you have it, but you can change what it does to you," she says.
What Is Diabetes?
Most of the food we eat is turned into sugar (glucose) that our muscles use for energy, and insulin is a hormone that helps the sugar move from the blood into the muscles.
When you have diabetes, your body is either not making insulin or not using insulin properly, which results in too much sugar staying in the blood. Over time, these changes can lead to serious health complications that affect the heart, eyes and kidneys. If left untreated, the disease can be fatal.
However, diabetes is neither inevitable nor unavoidable. Healthy lifestyles, early and effective medical treatment and behavioral self-management can dramatically reduce morbidity and mortality. Too often, though, diabetes goes undiagnosed, because many of its symptoms seem harmless or are mistaken for other health problems.
People sometimes go seven to 10 years without knowing they have diabetes.
"Learning that you have diabetes is never good news," says Melissa Herman, coordinator of FirstHealth of the Carolinas' Diabetes Self-Management and FirstReach programs. "But even though there is no cure, you can continue to lead a healthy, active lifestyle with proper management, continuous care and support."
Treatment options, which vary from person to person, include meal-planning guidelines, regular exercise, oral medication and insulin injections.
FirstHealth of the Carolinas offers a variety of services to assist patients of all ages with diabetes. Taking part in those programs made a real difference for Hamlet resident Fred Stanback.
"The classes at FirstHealth have done so much good," he says. "They've taught me how to eat and how to read labels and really understand them. I've learned that exercise is a big factor for blood sugar."
Stanback, who was diagnosed 15 years ago, is a former insulin user who did not follow the recommendations of his health provider.
"I thought I was invincible," he says. "When I started having kidney problems, it was a wake-up call. Diabetes is hard on the whole body, and people don't understand. I cannot tell you how much the staff at FirstHealth has helped me. I would tell the whole world if I could."
Today, Stanback volunteers in FirstHealth's Cardiac Rehab program, sharing his story and trying to help others make healthy choices.
"They taught me how to live a little longer," he says. "I'm using that time the best way I can."
Offered in Montgomery, Moore and Richmond counties, FirstHealth's Diabetes Self-Management Program offers one-on-one counseling and group classes to help patients understand their disease.
Patients benefit from time with both a nurse and dietitian as well as from group classes and, when needed, follow-up sessions.
"We show patients how to incorporate diabetes management into their daily lives," says Herman, "even how to enjoy their favorite foods. They learn how to interpret their blood glucose results and to make choices that help them meet their personal health goals.
"We can also link them with services and resources to eliminate barriers to care."
FirstHealth offers a unique diabetes focus in Montgomery County, where residents are 48 percent more likely to die of diabetes than other North Carolinians.
Funded by the FirstHealth Montgomery Foundation, FirstReach is a community-based, grassroots effort to screen, educate and follow up to ensure successful disease management.
Since its July 2008 beginning, FirstReach has provided screening services and educational programs at senior centers, work sites, churches, health fairs and medical offices.
"Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for people with diabetes to miss appointments, run out of medication or blood glucose testing supplies, or forget needed tests," says Herman. "Our goal is to support them in making good decisions. Hopefully, with the right information and needed tools, they will take the steps to maintain their health."
To learn more about FirstHealth's Diabetes Self-Management or FirstReach programs, call (800) 364-0499 toll-free.
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