Health: The Challenge of Type 2 Diabetes

Learn To Live With It!

by Sandra Fletcher

At 15 I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Back then (and I’m aging myself here!) diabetes was sometimes called “sugar diabetes”. The nutritionist my family doctor sent me to told me to stay away from any foods containing sugar, exercise more and I’d be fine.

The things about diabetes that my doctor and nutritionist DIDN’T tell me at the time were HUGE. If I knew then what I know now, I would have approached diabetes and LIVING with diabetes much differently!

A diagnosis of type 2 diabetes is becoming increasingly common in kids, teens, and in certain communities - especially among those who are overweight. The Canadian Diabetes Association reports that 90 percent of those with diabetes have the form known as type 2.

Diabetes is a chronic condition that needs consistent attention, but with some knowledge, you can learn to live with the disease.

What Kind of Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that affects how my body uses glucose, the main type of “sugar” in the blood. Sugar doesn’t just come from sugary foods. Sugar hides in all types of foods including fruits, veggies and carbohydrates.

Our bodies break down the food we eat into the nutrients it needs to give us fuel. The glucose levels in my blood rise after I eat and trigger my pancreas to make the hormone insulin and release it into the bloodstream. But in my body and in other people with diabetes, my body either can't make or respond to insulin properly.

Insulin works like a key that opens the door for cells and lets the glucose in so that the body can use energy. Without insulin (or without enough insulin) the glucose can't open up the cells (the doors are "locked" and there is no key) and glucose stays in the bloodstream. High blood sugar levels are a problem because they can cause problems.

Repeated high blood sugar levels are a sign that a person has developed diabetes. Those with type 2 diabetes can use diet, exercise and medicine that improve the body's response to insulin to control their blood sugar levels. Some may need to take insulin shots.

Who Gets Type 2 Diabetes?

Most people who develop type 2 diabetes are overweight. Excess fat makes it harder for the cells to respond to insulin. And being inactive further reduces the body's ability to respond to insulin. People who carry their weight around their middle – “apple” shapes – are thought to have a higher risk for developing diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes used to be called “adult-onset diabetes” because it almost exclusively affected overweight adults. Unfortunately, 2 decades ago I was on the “cutting edge” and developed Type 2 Diabetes as a teenager. Now that more and more kids and teenagers are overweight more of them than ever are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Certain ethnic groups also tend to be more prone to developing type 2 diabetes. Those most at risk include those of Native Canadian, African American, South American, South Asian and Chinese descent.

What to Look For?

The symptoms of type 2 diabetes aren't always obvious and they can take a long time to develop. In fact the Canadian Diabetes Association estimates that one quarter of people who have diabetes don’t even know it!

Left untreated and unmonitored, high blood sugar can cause all kinds of problems. Sometimes, there are no symptoms. It's important to remember that not everyone with diabetes develops these warning signs, and not everyone who has these symptoms necessarily has diabetes.

Signs that you may be diabetic according to the Canadian Diabetes Association include:

  • Unusual thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Weight change (gain or loss)
  • Extreme fatigue or lack of energy
  • Blurred vision
  • Frequent or recurring infections
  • Cuts and bruises that are slow to heal
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
  • Sexual dysfunction

The Side Effects

Diabetes is a chronic condition meaning that it never goes away. It may get better or worse but it is something that you must learn to live with.

Diabetes can cause long-term complications including heart disease, stroke, vision impairment, and kidney damage. In fact, the leading cause of death amongst people with diabetes is cardio-vascular problems and the leading cause of blindness is complications from diabetes.

Other, non life threatening problems can be caused or made worse by diabetes. Issues with blood vessels, nerves, gums and hormones can result in chronic problems with teeth, feet, hair loss and sexual dysfunction. Often these show up in people whose diabetes hasn't been well controlled.

Living With Type 2 Diabetes

It is recommended that you “begin as you intend to carry on” and with type 2 diabetes this is exceptionally true. Balance in all things from the moment you are diagnosed – day by day – is key to managing your illness in the long term.

Some helpful hints are:

  • eat a healthy diet
  • participate in physical activity regularly.
  • get to and maintain a normal body weight.
  • monitor blood sugar levels regularly.
  • take medications as prescribed by your doctor faithfully even if you feel better
  • work closely with your doctors and diabetes health care team

Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes

Doctors and researchers are developing new treatments to help cope with the special problems of diabetes. My very first Glucometer (blood sugar tester) took 60 seconds to process the results. My latest one has a memory, downloads results into my computer and takes a whopping 5 seconds.

There are drugs and insulin formulations that are there for those who have diabetes to help maintain good blood sugar control. If you think of your blood sugar as a roller coaster ride, these medications help to straighten out the track and help you avoid the HIGH highs and the LOW lows that can lead to complications. I have been lucky enough to have an excellent team of doctors throughout my life with diabetes. My team consists of my family doctor; an endocrinologist who specializes in treating people with diabetes; an Ophthalmologist for my eyes; a dentist for my teeth; a podiatrist for my feet. Off and on I’ve had help from wound care specialists, dermatologists and nutritionists. Understanding how my body works has helped me manage my chronic condition for decades.

Until scientists have perfected ways to better treat and possibly even prevent or cure diabetes, you can lead a happier, healthier life by giving arming yourself with knowledge about the disease, and making sure you eat properly, exercise, and stay on top of glucose levels every day.

For Questions, contact the Canadian Diabetes Association at www.diabetes.ca or 1-800-BANTING (226-8464)

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