Key Strategies for Living with Diabetes

Diabetes is a common condition, affecting 38.4 million people in the United States—which represents 11.6% of the U.S. population. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), another 97.6 million Americans aged 18 years or older are in the prediabetic stage of the disease.

Dr. Ramanpreet Grewal, family medicine provider at Riverside Healthcare’s Watseka campus, shares important information about diabetes, including key strategies to address it.

Ramanpreet Grewal, MD

Understanding the Difference Between Type-1 and Type-2 Diabetes

The two primary types of diabetes are type-1 and type-2. Type-1 is primarily diagnosed in childhood or adolescence. It is an autoimmune condition where the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Consequently, the body does not  produce insulin, leading to elevated blood sugar levels.

While type-2 diabetes used to be considered more of an “adulthood” condition, it is now becoming more prevalent in younger populations due to negative shifts in lifestyle habits. In type-2, the body either doesn’t produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin.

“Both types share the common theme of elevated blood sugar, which can cause a range of complications. Over time, high blood sugars can damage organs, blood vessels, and nerves. Complications may include cardiovascular issues, kidney problems, nerve damage, and vision impairment,” states Dr. Grewal.

Risk Factors and Preventative Measures

When looking at any health condition, it’s important to consider both modifiable risk factors and non-modifiable risk factors. The latter includes uncontrollable elements, such as genetics (family history). If a person has a parent or sibling with diabetes, they are at an increased risk of developing it as well. Another non-modifiable risk factor is age. Certain ethnicities, like African American populations, Hispanic populations, Native Americans, and Asian Americans, have a higher predisposition.

Alternatively, modifiable risk factors can be changed. “Our lifestyle plays a significant role, which would include poor diet, lack of physical activity, and obesity. High blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol levels are also among modifiable risk factors,” explains Dr. Grewal.

As such, preventative measures involve adopting a healthier lifestyle. For example, eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; minimizing processed foods and sugary beverages; and getting regular physical exercise.

“If you already know you are at a high risk of developing diabetes, it’s important to monitor your blood sugar levels and undergo regular cholesterol checks,” advises Dr. Grewal.

How to Effectively Manage Diabetes

If a person is diagnosed with diabetes, effective management is crucial. A portion of that encompasses the lifestyle changes mentioned above, but it also involves adhering to appropriate medication. Dr. Grewal describes metformin is the “bread and butter” type of medication used to mitigate type-2 diabetes. Additional medications have come to market, such as glucagon-like peptide 1s (GLP-1s), commonly known by brand names Ozempic and Mounjaro.

“They have really changed how we treat diabetes, by helping with weight loss and controlling blood sugar levels. We’ve also been able to decrease the demand for insulin usage, just with these medications,” she notes.

It’s crucial for those living with diabetes to regular monitor their condition—both daily blood sugar checks and visits with a primary care provider or endocrinologist at least once a quarter. Individuals should also undergo a yearly foot exam, yearly eye exam, and a yearly urine exam. Adhering to these checks helps detect complications sooner rather than later.

Fortunately, advances in technology have lessened the burden of blood sugar checks and insulin injections. For instance, today’s insulin pumps deliver a precise dose. “These devices enhance control, empower informed decisions, and significantly improve the lives of individuals with diabetes, promoting a more flexible and a healthier lifestyle,” shares Dr. Grewal.

Diabetes Red Flags: Watch for These Symptoms

Common symptoms accompanying diabetes include the “three Ps”:

  • Polydipsia (increased thirst)
  • Polyphagia (increased hunger)
  • Polyuria (increased urination)

“If you’re experiencing any of these three symptoms, can be one, can be both, or can be all three together, you definitely need to be checked for diabetes,” urges Dr. Grewal. “Or, if you develop unexplained weight loss. Unexplained weight loss is the key factor here when it comes to type-1 diabetes. If you see your child is eating but losing a lot of weight and is always tired, always thirsty, bring them in so we can check them for type-1 diabetes.”

Additional symptoms often include fatigue, weakness, blurry vision, and tingling or numbness in the hands or feet. “Sometimes, we have patients come in and their only symptom is a burning sensation in their feet. That can be an indication for high blood sugars,” she adds.

You Don’t Have to Navigate Your Diabetes Journey Alone

Dr. Grewal’s final takeaway is that no one needs to navigate a diabetes journey alone. A number of trusted resources are available, from one’s physician, to local health departments, to advocacy groups like the American Diabetes Association.

“This association offers educational resources and also helps you connect with people with shared experiences. Having an open mind, speaking with your primary care provider, and engaging on reputable social media platforms is also helpful in finding resources; ones that can provide information and support for coping with diabetes.”

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