The guest column below was published in El Defensor Chieftain on April 11, 2019.
By Michelle Chungtuyco, MD MS
Family Medicine Physician, Socorro Medical Group
If you are one of the 20 percent of Socorro County residents living with diabetes, you know that it can be an overwhelming diagnosis. You hear lots of new terms and have a steep learning curve.
Diabetes affects how your body uses blood sugar. If it is not well-managed, diabetes can cause too much sugar in the blood and lead to serious health risks. These include risks of stroke, heart disease, eye and kidney damage, and can lead to loss of limbs.
But, there is good news too. With lifestyle changes, patients can make a huge impact on their health and learn to live well with diabetes.
Physicians typically screen for diabetes at 40 but if patients are obese, they may be tested at 35. Women who develop diabetes during pregnancy or anyone with a parent or sibling with diabetes should also be tested earlier.
If tests identify patients as "prediabetic," that means that they do not have diabetes yet, but are at risk of progressing to diabetes. Usual tests include hemoglobin A1C (A1C) levels, with higher values meaning greater risk. A1C levels less than 5.7 are considered normal; prediabetics have levels of 5.7-6.4 and diabetics have A1C levels of 6.5 or higher.
When a patient is diagnosed as diabetic or prediabetic, there are key things to do.
First, move toward a Mediterranean diet that focuses on more vegetables, less meat and whole grains – which is good for all of us, not only people with diabetes. If this is too difficult at first, patients can focus on avoiding five things – sweets, rice, bread, pasta and potatoes – as well as cutting out soda and smoking. Exercising (at least brisk walking) for 30 minutes, five days a week, with the goal of increasing to an hour every day, is also key.
In addition to diet and exercise, managing diabetes means setting up regular appointments with your health care provider to test A1C levels, and also make sure related health issues are controlled.
For people with diabetes, medication often accompanies lifestyle changes. Metformin is one of the most common, but some people will eventually need insulin. For obese patients with diabetes, bariatric surgery may also be an option.
Diabetes is a serious condition, but it doesn't have to be scary. With regular medical care, exercise and a healthy diet, patients can keep it in check and lead healthy lives.