More than a million Americans will receive the unwelcome news this year that they are living with diabetes. A new diagnosis is no small thing, as it signifies the necessity of regular checkups, blood sugar testing, medication and lifestyle changes. The idea of a lifetime of diabetes maintenance may seem completely overwhelming, but education and preparation are the keys to ensuring success.
Cheryl Burgan, R.N., B.S.N., C.D.E., diabetes educator at Texas Health Fort Worth, Southwest Fort Worth and Willow Park, says following a few simple steps can help regular diabetes checkups be as informative and helpful as possible.
“The first thing in being prepared is writing down your questions, because it’s normal to feel nervous and overwhelmed, especially with a new diagnosis,” she says. “It’s important to bring any blood glucose results and to ask questions if you don’t understand your tests and results. Patients also need to bring a full list of medications they are taking, including any supplements or vitamins. The physician can advise any changes based on any deficiencies in their lab work or if there is any conflict with other medicines.”
Diabetes is a growing problem in the United States, as the American Diabetes Association (ADA) reports that 1.5 million Americans are newly diagnosed with the disease each year, with 84.1 million adults living on the edge of the disease with prediabetes. Around 30.3 million Americans (9.4 percent of the population) currently have the disease, with 23.1 million diagnosed and 7.2 million living undiagnosed.
Managing diabetes isn’t often simple, but those with the disease can take heart, knowing that both their physicians and diabetes educators can help in numerous ways.
“Persons with diabetes are typically seen by their physician every three to six months, which may seem like a lot, but that’s how often physicians need to review lab work to ensure the disease is being managed,” Burgan explains. “Checkups could be even more frequent for someone with a new diagnosis. Because physicians are limited with the time they have to spend with each individual person, diabetes educators can fill that gap.
“We work to provide information and help patients be successful managing their disease. The more information people have about what is happening, the more it will help to relieve the anxiety that comes with the unknown. We also help them set up goals to manage their diabetes.”
Texans may take pride in saying that everything is bigger here, but our rate of diabetes certainly isn’t anything to brag about. According to the ADA’s North Texas office, more than 2.8 million Texans are living with the disease, and those numbers are projected to only grow with national increases. In fact, experts estimate that one in three Americans born after 2000 will directly be affected by diabetes.
Burgan explains that even with regular visits to a physician and available tools, diabetes patients sometimes experience diabetes distress, a condition characterized by stress, depression and anxiety. Sometimes a patient becomes so exhausted by the self-care involved with diabetes maintenance that he gives up taking care of himself completely.
“So many diabetes patients go through this, and that’s where support becomes so important,” Burgan says. “This disease can’t be managed ‘perfectly,’ but if a patient has someone to talk with, ask questions and help set goals with, it makes such a big difference. Oftentimes I’ll see patients who have given up because they believe nothing they do for their diabetes makes a difference. In reality, they just needed more information and some help to steer them in the right direction.
“It’s easy to get overwhelmed because you get no vacation from diabetes, so patients need to build a support system of family, friends and a local support group, as well as professional resources like their physicians and diabetes educators. Texas Health offers support groups through many of their facilities across North Texas and they are a great avenue to connect people dealing with the same issues.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Texas ranks 10th in the number of adults living with diabetes, while at the more regional level, Tarrant County is one of four counties in the state with diabetes rates higher than the U.S. median.
The residents of the four largest counties in North Texas experience diabetes at varying rates, as follows:
- Tarrant County: 11 percent (160,014 people)
- Dallas County: 9.6 percent (147,245 people)
- Collin County: 8.1 percent (47,686 people)
- Denton County: 8.6 percent (41,403 people)
This means hundreds of thousands of people across the North Texas area are living with diabetes and managing it to their best ability. It isn’t easy, however, so Burgan encourages patients to partner with people who can help and support them as they work through the highs and lows of living with the disease.
“It’s not just about diet and exercise, but getting the right medication and insulin, finding the right physician and creating healthy habits,” she says. “It’s about being honest with your doctor when you are having trouble taking your medicine or you are struggling financially with the cost of medication and self-care. Putting information in the hands of patients is so important because when they become educated, they can stop feeling guilty and take control of their own health.”