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Understanding Diabetes During National Diabetes Month

Diabetes is often called a condition. Manageable. No big deal if people just take their medicine and make some lifestyle changes. And while it’s true that people with diabetes can live long and healthy lives, the fact is that this is a serious, dangerous disease:

• Diabetes claims more lives each year than breast cancer and AIDS combined.
• It is a leading cause of blindness, heart disease, amputation, end-stage kidney disease and liver problems.
• Diabetes costs the American health care system over $237 billion annually.
• If trends don’t change, 1 in 3 Americans will have diabetes by 2050.

Needless to say, diabetes is a very, very big deal. That makes National Diabetes Month the time to learn more about it.

The first thing to know is that diabetes is more than one disease.

TYPE 1 DIABETES

This is often called juvenile diabetes, but that’s a misnomer. This genetic, autoimmune disease can occur at any age. With Type 1, the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the pancreas. This prevents the production of insulin, which the body needs to transport glucose from the bloodstream into the cells of a body.

Type 1 diabetes is not preventable and there currently is no cure. With rigorous management, multiple daily insulin injections, and other treatments, people can live long and healthy lives with Type 1. But it’s far from easy and blood sugar peaks and valleys are often unpredictable.

TYPE 2 DIABETES

This is the more common variety of the disease. In people with Type 2, insulin is no longer effective at lowering their blood glucose. Initially, the pancreas produces extra insulin to compensate, but over time it can’t keep up. Sometimes, blood glucose can be kept at healthy levels by controlling the amount of carbohydrates in the diet. But most often, medication is required, and some people eventually need to administer insulin injections.

The biggest misconception about Type 2 diabetes is that it’s completely preventable. While being overweight increases the risk, genetics also play into this form of the disease.

GESTATIONAL DIABETES

For reasons that aren’t completely understood, between 3 percent and 8 percent of pregnant women will develop high blood glucose levels. This can lead to health problems for the baby, including shoulder injuries during birth and a higher risk for breathing problems.

Developing gestational diabetes doesn’t mean that you will have diabetes after giving birth. Treatments during pregnancy depend on many factors, but generally include a special diet, exercise, daily blood glucose monitoring, and insulin injections, if needed.

SOUTHWESTERN PENNSYLVANIA HAS ONE OF THE NATION’S HIGHEST DIABETES PREVALENCE RATES

Unfortunately, our region is included in a 15-state swath of the country known as the “diabetes belt.” That’s why St. Clair Hospital established a comprehensive Diabetes Center to help people fully understand and confidently manage this disease.

Here, our expert team of certified diabetes educators and registered dietitians work together with patients and their physicians to best manage their disease and live longer, healthier lives through:

Individual nutrition counseling — developing a personalized meal plan, including carb counting, portion control and weight management.

Individual diabetes self-management sessions — how-tos on monitoring blood glucose and administering insulin and other medications properly.

Group diabetes education classes — an interactive learning experience on healthful eating, physical activity, preventive care, glucose targets and more.

Gestational diabetes education — learning how to prepare nutritious meals and monitor blood glucose to help ensure a healthy pregnancy.

The Diabetes Wellness Group — free and open to the public (no physician referral required), these sessions feature presentations from leaders in the field.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with diabetes, St. Clair is here to help you take control of this disease — so that it doesn’t take control of you.

To learn more about St. Clair’s diabetes education and support opportunities, including dates, times and locations, visit stclair.org/services/diabetes-center, and read our Fall 2018 HouseCall issue by visiting stclair.org/21 and clicking Fall 2018.