by Kevin Wang, MD, Faculty
Swedish First Hill
Special to the SGN
Welcome to my second column and my first article on a medically-related topic for the Seattle Gay News in this great partnership between Swedish Medical Center and the SGN! This month, we've decided to focus on diabetes. We'll start off with some basics about this growing medical problem, what you can do to manage your diabetes and, most importantly, what all of us can do to help prevent it!
Why is diabetes such an issue? It's one of the major causes of other major medical issues and hospitalizations worldwide. As much as 9% of the U.S. population has diabetes with as many as 25-40% of people with diabetes being undiagnosed. That means there's a good chance someone you work with or the stranger you're sitting next to on the bus may have diabetes! In case you don't know, diabetes is a medical condition where our body has trouble processing sugar that we get from nutrition. Type II diabetes is the one that most people hear about and happens when our body becomes more resistant to insulin, something our pancreas makes to help keep our blood sugar levels stable. What makes our body resistant to its own insulin? There are lots of risk factors and, unfortunately, we can't change some of them. Some risk factors include age (over 45), being overweight, a family history of diabetes, sedentary lifestyle, high-risk ethnic groups (African-American, Hispanic, Native American, Asian-American, Pacific Islanders), those who delivered a baby weighing more than 9 pounds, and high blood pressure. That's quite the long list and the only risk factors we can really affect include exercise, diet, weight loss and, to a certain extent, blood pressure.
And what are some of those 'other' medical problems that result from having diabetes? These include potential vision loss, erectile dysfunction, cardiovascular issues including heart attacks, strokes and blood flow problems to your legs, which may result in amputation of toes or feet. One of the most common complications from diabetes is kidney damage, which may result in needing dialysis and is something that can significantly alter your quality of life.
Okay ... breathe. I know this is all scary stuff. Stay with me for just a bit more so I can let you know how to check and see if you have diabetes, ways to prevent diabetes and some great resources Swedish has to help you take control of this condition!
Now how would you know if you have diabetes? There are some screening tests we can offer and, I'm sorry to say to those with needle-phobias, they require a poke and some blood. The only problem is that there are different recommendations for screening from different organizations. That's why it's important to establish a relationship with a primary care physician so that the two of you can work together to decrease your risk and to determine the screening plan that works for you.
The other way to diagnose diabetes typically occurs once someone has symptoms. High blood sugar from undiagnosed or uncontrolled diabetes can result in feeling thirsty all the time, peeing all the time (not just in terms of frequency but in volume, as well), blurry vision and, in some cases, weight loss. This can be so severe that it may result in hospitalization!
If you're ever diagnosed with diabetes, know that you have access to a healthcare team that will work with you to help manage the disease and its associated conditions. Some people do well with diet and exercise while others may require oral medications or injections to control their blood sugars. The first step always starts off with comprehensive education classes led by our staff at the Swedish Diabetes Education Center
(http://www.swedish.org/services/diabetes-education-center). They really are the ones who will give you the tools to help you take control of your diabetes. Our providers will help with the medical management and general medical care that you may need to help manage the complications associated with diabetes. We also have a team of support staff to help out if you have difficulty affording your medications, as we can help you apply for Swedish patient assistance programs. (http://www.swedish.org/patient-visitor-info/billing/financial-assistance)
What can you do to help prevent the onset of diabetes, especially if you have risk factors? Again, this includes working with your primary care physician and a comprehensive team to help with weight loss, diet, exercise, mental health, smoking cessation and, in some cases, medications that we often use to treat our pre-diabetic patients. Like I mentioned above, we can help our patients access the Swedish Diabetes Education Center
(http://www.swedish.org/services/diabetes-education-center) as well as other community resources like the Seattle YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program. (http://www.seattleymca.org/Pages/LifestyleChange.aspx)
Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or ideas for additional topics. I can be reached in care of the Seattle Gay News at firstname.lastname@example.org - with ATTN: DR. KEVIN in the subject line. Please also visit the www.swedish.org website for a provider near you. Thanks again and see you next month!
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