The Diabetes Epidemic: Let’s Focus on Prevention
Tarkten Pharr, M.D.
Sentara Surgery Specialists, Division of Albemarle Physician Services - Sentara, Inc.
One in 10 adults in North Carolina have been diagnosed with diabetes. For many of them, it could have been prevented. Those with prediabetes (1 in 3 adults in North Carolina) can avoid developing Type 2 diabetes with the right care and treatment.
Diabetes Can Lead to Major Health Complications
As our society becomes more sedentary, and weight increases, we’re seeing a surge in diabetes, especially among patients over age 65. Diabetes is not simply a condition requiring patients to check their blood glucose levels. It is a condition that can wreak havoc on your body.
There is a Pandora’s box of problems that can happen to patients with uncontrolled diabetes. These conditions, largely in three categories, require extensive care from specialists, like me:
- Kidney disease or damage: This means the kidneys can no longer detoxify the body, which may result in patients needing dialysis or even a kidney transplant.
- Eye problems: People with diabetes have a higher risk of blindness and other diseases like glaucoma or cataracts.
- Skin and nerve pain: About half of patients with diabetes will experience nerve damage that causes problems for the body’s organ systems. It can also lead to loss of feeling, open wounds or amputation of limbs.
Sentara vascular surgeons treat diabetic peripheral artery disease (PAD), which leads to narrowed or blocked arteries. The result can include heart attack, stroke and circulation problems resulting in pain, sores or tissue death.
Our treatments can include minimally invasive procedures to restore circulation, as well as surgery to bypass blocked arteries. We also help patients get care for wounds, including diabetic foot wounds.
You Can Prevent Diabetes
Many patients don’t connect that a combination of risk factors and/or symptoms could mean diabetes for themselves. By ignoring the signs, you may miss your window for preventing diabetes. Worse, you could have greater problems in the future.
If you have risk factors, or prediabetes, these actions can reduce your likelihood of developing Type 2 diabetes by more than half:
- Lose weight: The American Diabetes Association suggests losing 10 to 15 pounds can lower your risk considerably.
- Exercise: Just 30 minutes of walking five days each week can make a big difference.
- Change your diet: An unhealthy diet doesn’t support your immune system or your kidneys, which play an important role in detoxification. Plus, poor diet often leads to weight gain.
Are You at Risk for Diabetes?
The first step in preventing diabetes is to know the risk factors. The good news is, patients have a lot of control over many of them:
- Increased weight/obesity
- Unhealthy cholesterol levels
- High blood pressure
- High blood sugar levels
- Ethnicity (African-Americans are at a much higher risk than the general public)
- Family history
You should also pay attention to these symptoms, which may or may not be present:
- Increased thirst and urination
- Unexplained hunger
- Blurry vision
- Tingling or pain in extremities (hands and feet)
- Fungal or bacterial infections, itching
Take note of your diabetes risk factors and symptoms. If you’re concerned, talk with your primary care doctor who may recommend diabetes testing. If you don’t see a doctor regularly, it’s time to schedule an appointment.
Remember, routine care and three simple steps—losing weight, exercising and changing your diet—will go a long way to help you prevent not only diabetes, but other health conditions as well. Here's to good health!