How Much Do You Know About Diabetes? Six Facts to Get You Thinking

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One of my favorite lines from the movie “Moonstruck,” starring Cher and Nicholas Cage, is delivered by Olympia Dukakis: “What you don’t know about women is A LOT!” (Great movie.) Similarly, when it comes to diabetes, people unfortunately don’t know a lot about it. I’m not implying that you don’t know about this condition, but in my experience, there are important diabetes facts that many people don’t know. No one says that you need a PhD in diabetes, but the hope is that a person with diabetes knows enough to take care of himself and knows the signs and symptoms of both acute and chronic complications — and what to do about them.

But regardless of how much you know, there are always new things to learn. It’s amazing what a vast reach diabetes has — it affects pretty much every organ system in the body. And the reality is that with new medicines, treatments, and delivery devices coming out all the time, it can be hard to keep up. This week, I’d like to share a few facts (little-known facts, perhaps) about diabetes. I hope they’re helpful to you.

Fact 1. About one quarter of people with diabetes don’t know they have it. That means that roughly seven million people are walking around right now with diabetes — but they have no idea. The best ways to know if you have diabetes or are at risk for the disease are to know your risk factors and to get checked regularly at your doctor’s office.

Fact 2. You can reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by losing a moderate amount of weight (about 5% to 10% of your body weight) and engaging in regular physical activity. Making lifestyle changes is not easy, but dropping a few pounds and going walking (or swimming or dancing) every day can help ward off this disease — you can’t say the same for many other chronic conditions. If you’re at risk, talk to your doctor or a dietitian about what you can do to stave it off.

Fact 3. Insulin isn’t just for people with Type 1 diabetes: About 30% to 40% of people with Type 2 diabetes also take insulin. Taking insulin if you have Type 2 diabetes does not mean that you “failed” at taking care of yourself, nor does it mean that you’re going to go blind or lose a limb. Having to start insulin simply means that you’re diabetes is changing, and that’s normal. Insulin is the most effective treatment there is for diabetes. If your doctor or diabetes educator advises you to start insulin, try to keep an open mind and realize that it’s actually a good thing.

Fact 4. Diabetes is a leading cause of blindness in American adults. This sounds scary, but there are two things you need to know about this grim statistic: First, blindness from diabetes can be prevented by making sure that you get a dilated eye exam every year, or as often as your eye doctor recommends. Don’t neglect to do this — eye exams at your local mall don’t count. And second, if you have diabetic eye disease (retinopathy or diabetic macular edema), know that there are effective treatments to prevent it from worsening.

Fact 5. Bariatric (weight-loss) surgery is a highly effective treatment for Type 2 diabetes. Now, I’m not saying that surgery is the answer for everyone. But if you are very overweight and have Type 2 diabetes, bariatric surgery is certainly an option for you. Many doctors don’t discuss this type of treatment with their patients. And there are risks to having any type of surgery. But recent studies have shown that people who had bariatric surgery achieved remission (not a cure) of their diabetes.

Fact 6. An “artificial” pancreas should soon be available to help people with Type 1 diabetes more easily manage their condition. There’s still no cure for diabetes, but in the meantime, this mechanical device is doing a pretty darn good job, at least in research studies.

This tool, which is comprised of a smartphone app, a continuous glucose monitor, and pumps that release insulin and glucagon, has allowed study subjects to eat what they want and do what they want without the laborious calculations and planning that are typically required. Furthermore, in studies, participants using the device had less hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) and had overall improved glucose control. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that this technology will be available in 2017, as planned.

My list could go on, but I’ve run out of room. Feel free to share anything that you’ve learned about diabetes that others may not know.

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