Your Health

Type 2 diabetes health risks can be successfully managed

Glucose monitor.
Photo of Donna Alden-Budgen DONNA BUDGEN-ALDEN
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Friday, November 25, 2016

People who have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes often feel more than a little fearful.

That is to be expected. After all, diabetes is a serious chronic condition that can lead to increased chances of a number of other serious health problems.

Yet it is important to remember that, as with many other chronic conditions, steps can be taken to successfully manage this condition, or even reduce the risk of developing it in the first place.

The key, of course, is to understand what Type diabetes is and what you can do about it.

Let’s start with the basics.

Essentially, Type 2 diabetes is tied to the digestion of food. When you eat, your body turns food into glucose (blood sugar). It also produces a hormone called insulin, which is used to help the body absorb the blood sugar and convert it into energy. This is where problems can arise. Type 2 Diabetes occurs in one of two ways: either your body does not produce enough insulin to absorb the glucose; or it does not efficiently use the insulin it does produce. In both cases, you are left with an abnormally high level of glucose in the blood, which can result in damage to your body’s organs and lead to a wide range of health problems.

While Type 2 diabetes can strike anyone, there are certain populations that are more at risk and of developing this condition than others. Groups at higher risk include those who are overweight, inactive, follow a poor diet, and smoke cigarettes. Other risk factors can include genetics, stress, some medications like antipsychotics and steroids, and certain medical conditions like Cushing’s syndrome, some cancers, and polycystic ovarian syndrome.

Type 2 diabetes can be difficult to detect in its early stages and can go undiagnosed for many years. It also tends to surface later in life which is why people who are at high risk of developing this condition are usually screened every three years once they reach the age of 45. Symptoms of Type 2 diabetes can include excessive thirst, frequent or increased urination (especially at night), frequent yeast or bladder infections, weight changes, excessive hunger, fatigue, trouble getting or maintaining an erection, numbness or tingling in the feet or hands, blurry vision, and sores or cuts that won't heal.

Clearly, the best way to deal with diabetes is to reduce your risk of developing it in the first place. Although genetics does play a role in determining whether a person will develop Type 2 diabetes, individuals can reduce their risk by eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight.

For those who have been diagnosed, the most important thing is to reduce your risk of further complications as a result of the disease. These include serious health issues such as stroke, heart attack, nerve damage (neuropathy), kidney damage (nephropathy), eye damage (retinopathy), foot damage, hearing impairment, birth defects and miscarriage, skin conditions, Alzheimer's disease, and diabetic coma (from either too high or too low blood sugar). In extreme cases, wounds that do not heal can lead to chronic leg infections and may potentially lead to amputations.

How can someone reduce their risk of complications?

The best way is to work closely with a health-care provider to develop a management plan.

Such a plan will include many of the same measures that can help reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Eating a diet that is low-calorie, low-fat, low-saturated fat, and high-fibre is imperative. So is regular exercise. Research shows that walking at least an hour a day, three times a week can have an effect on the development of Type 2 diabetes.

It is also important to remember that small changes can make a big difference. Even a five pound loss in weight can help keep your blood sugar level in check.

Bottom line: People with Type 2 diabetes do face serious health challenges. But, as long as they receive the proper treatment and are committed to making the appropriate lifestyle changes, there is no reason why these challenges can’t be successfully managed.  

Donna Alden-Bugden is a nurse practitioner at the McGregor QuickCare Clinic.

This column was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Nov. 25, 2016.

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