Runs in the Blood: 10 Things That You Need to Know About Diabetes
Diabetes is one of the many prevalent health concerns that affects people. Here’s what you need to know about managing and treating it.
Growing up, I’ve been told by my mother one too many times that I shouldn’t eat too much sweets. “Sige ka, you’ll get diabetes next time!” she’d caution me.
I do know she means well—my grandmother, after all, has diabetes herself. And I too am worried that it runs in the blood… literally. That’s why my family schedules annual medical check ups and I always pay close attention to my blood sugar levels. Though ironically, for someone with a sweet tooth, my blood sugar is much lower than my sister’s.
We’re all familiar with diabetes. At least one of our family members or relatives has it, or in some cases, it’s hereditary. In fact, WebMD defines it as “a number of diseases that involve problems with the hormone insulin… [which] can occur when the pancreas produces very little or no insulin, or when the body does not respond appropriately to insulin.”
Thing is, there are many myths and misconceptions surrounding this disease. To know more about it, I emailed Dr. Erick S. Mendoza, MD, MBAH, FPCP, FPSEDM, a medical expert from the Philippine Society of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism (PSEDM) for the lowdown on diabetes.
What are some myths about diabetes?
“Some of the [more common] myths about diabetes are the following:
- People with diabetes cannot eat sugar: This is one of the most [common] misconceptions about a person living with diabetes. Patients with diabetes can eat sugar, but in moderation. [They also need to consume] more of whole grains rather than refined grains and simple sugars. Sugar is [still] a component in building a healthy and balanced diet, which is highly recommended for Filipinos who live with diabetes.
- Type 2 diabetes is mild: Like other health conditions, type 2 diabetes mellitus starts out as mild. But if it is poorly managed, it can lead to serious [and in some cases,] even life-threatening complications. Hence, diabetes mellitus should be managed with focus and seriousness. Good glucose control can help significantly decrease the risk of complications [for] Type 2 diabetes.
- People with diabetes go blind and lose their legs: No, having diabetes does not [automatically] mean [that] you will either get blind or [be] amputated. These are all preventable complications if you attend your scheduled diabetes checkups with your endocrinologist.
- Living with diabetes is hard: Having diabetes is not a death sentence. People with diabetes can still live a full life with a healthy and balanced diet, [proper] exercise, and [regularly monitoring their blood sugar levels].”
What are essential items that you need to have if your family or loved ones have diabetes?
“These essential items include oral or injectable anti-diabetes medications to keep glucose levels from getting too high and glucose monitoring devices. Glucose tablets, glucagon (though not available locally), or alternative glucose sources are to be taken when glucose [levels] get too low, while ketone test strips [are used] to check for ketone levels. High ketone levels may imply that your diabetes is out of control, which will require doctors to intervene.”
What’s a routine or schedule that you can practice while taking care of those diagnosed with diabetes?
“It’s best to talk to your doctor about the proposed routine and schedule in taking care of relatives with diabetes. Diabetes management, or keeping glucose in check, is difficult since we will need to [consider] several factors such as food, frequency of physical activities, and medication. Basically, people living with diabetes should eat [the] proper composition and amount of food and on proper time. They should [also] take medications regularly.”
What are the basics you need to know for taking care of a family member or loved one who is diabetic?
“The most basic requirement is knowing their glucose levels in real-time. By having the right data, we can personally adjust the diabetes management regimen of your [family members] who might have this condition. You should also adjust his or her insulin intake for those on insulin if a very high reading [is detected] or if he or she suddenly experiences hypoglycemia.”
What are other health risks associated with diabetes that we need to watch out for?
“Some of the health risks associated with diabetes are eye, skin, and foot complications. Additionally, uncontrolled diabetes may lead to kidney failure, cardiovascular diseases (i.e. heart attack, hypertension), stroke and neuropathy. This is why having good glycemic control is important to reduce the health risks of diabetes.
Through proper glucose monitoring, your family member or loved ones can be constantly reminded to achieve good glycemic control by sticking to healthy lifestyle choices and being compliant with medications.”
What’s an ideal diet for someone with diabetes?
“A healthy and balanced diet is essential for family and loved ones who are living with diabetes. They can consult their respective physicians or nutritionists in order to build the ideal diet to ensure good health and glycemic control. They should freely discuss meal plan and preparation with their nutritionists to offer flexibility at the same time achieve the best glycemic control that they ought to have.”
How can you prevent or manage diabetes if it is hereditary?
“As early as possible, have yourselves checked with your doctor or endocrinologist if you have a parent or close relative with diabetes. Through early detection, we can prevent diabetes [from] progressing [and detect it] before it becomes difficult to control or before complications show up.”
How can you maintain an active lifestyle even with diabetes? And if so, what is a good way to start your active lifestyle?
“Maintaining an active lifestyle can be done by Filipinos with diabetes, through basic and home-based exercises. Many resources are now available in YouTube, Facebook, and the internet to help encourage them to remain active. A 40-minute exercise, 4 to 5 times a week minimum is recommended. Of course, they can aim better than this goal later on.
In fact, this can be a bonding experience with family members, [plus a chance to] adapt an active lifestyle even amid the pandemic.”
Given the ongoing pandemic, how can you take care of someone living with diabetes without putting him or her at risk?
“I would like to stress the importance of getting vaccinated, especially for someone who lives with diabetes. Diabetes is identified as one of the comorbidities prioritized by the national government to be given a vaccine [for] against COVID-19. Thus, we encourage family members to get their parents with diabetes vaccinated. All COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective in reducing COVID-19 risks.
Make sure to follow the basic health protocols when going outside: wear a mask, wash your hands, and practice social distancing so that you can safely take care of your family members and loved ones with diabetes.”
What are some emergencies that you may encounter when taking care of someone with diabetes? How can you deal with it, given the quarantine restrictions amid the pandemic?
“Diabetes-related emergencies may present in 1 of these 2 situations: acute symptomatic hyperglycemia including diabetic crisis and hypoglycemia. Mild forms of hyperglycemia can be managed by simply adjusting medications and treating underlying conditions such as infections. This can be effectively done through online consult with your endocrinologists.
However, severe forms of hyperglycemia including diabetic crisis, [which] needs hospital admission. Individuals with these conditions are too weak and more often sleepy. On the other hand, hypoglycemia can usually be managed at home, especially if the patient can eat something [to boost glucose levels], like a 15-gram carbohydrate or sugar equivalent. [This can] reverse hypoglycemia and its symptoms.
Thankfully, we have monitoring devices like Abbott’s Freestyle Libre. These allow us to monitor in real-time our loved ones living with diabetes and institute appropriate measures before their condition worsens.”
Photos from Abbott Philippines