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Column: Diabetes prevention, management during COVID-19 pandemic

2020 has been a stressful time for everyone, and in times of stress, we often turn to “comfort foods” or increase our snacking. This can spell trouble when our favorite treats include a lot of sugar, especially for those of us whose bodies don’t store glucose well.

Diabetes and pre-diabetes affect more than 100 million Americans. Pre-diabetes refers to blood sugar levels that are higher than normal but not yet diabetic, putting someone at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

WHAT EXACTLY IS DIABETES? 

Glucose is the primary sugar that our body uses for energy, and diabetes is a metabolic disease that inhibits our body’s ability to properly store glucose in the blood. Most sugars that we consume when we eat or drink get broken down into glucose by our bodies.

Glucose is everywhere! Starch (a carbohydrate found in bread) and lactose (a carbohydrate found in milk) are both broken down into glucose inside your body. The sucrose, fructose, and corn syrup commonly used in processed foods are also broken down into — you guessed it — glucose.

Since so many foods and drinks have carbohydrates that break down into glucose, how we store extra glucose is very important. A 200lb person without diabetes stores approximately 6 grams of glucose in their blood at any given time.

For perspective, one can of Coke has 39 grams of carbohydrates, which includes glucose, sucrose, fructose and corn syrup. All that extra glucose in our blood must either be used by our organs or packed away into fat or muscle tissue as storage.

When someone has diabetes, their body isn’t able to store extra glucose well. This creates elevated blood sugar levels and can lead to many other health problems with our heart, kidneys, vision, and circulation.

WHY IS DIABETES DANGEROUS?

Having too much glucose in the blood clogs up our small blood vessels. Some of the smallest blood vessels in our bodies are the nerves in our fingertips and toes, the filtering system in our kidneys, and the retinas in our eyes. This is why diabetes can negatively affect our circulation, limbs, and vision–in severe cases, uncontrolled diabetes can even lead to amputated limbs and blindness.

Elevated sugar levels also affect our ability to heal. As a result, people with diabetes often take longer to heal from cuts, scratches, incisions, and other wounds.

SYMPTOMS OF DIABETES

Common symptoms include frequent urination, fatigue, persistent hunger, unexplained weight loss, slow-healing cuts, and pain or numbness in the legs and feet. People with severe, uncontrolled diabetes often suffer from an unquenchable thirst. Too much sugar in the blood can mimic dehydration, so our body promotes feeling extremely thirsty to try to rehydrate.

Erectile dysfunction is another common, but little talked about consequence of poorly controlled diabetes; the small blood vessels to the sexual organs are impacted by elevated glucose and become clogged, not allowing blood to flow to the area and causing sexual dysfunction.

WHO SHOULD BE TESTED FOR DIABETES?

Anyone experiencing diabetes-related symptoms should talk to their healthcare provider right away. Those who are overweight and over the age of 40 are encouraged to have blood-sugar specific checks once each year, either through a finger-prick test or traditional blood test (i.e., blood taken from a vein). These tests help medical providers gauge your average blood sugar level.

TREATING DIABETES

If you are at risk for developing diabetes or are diagnosed with untreated diabetes, there are simple steps you can take to improve your health. What we eat and drink really matters! Avoid soft drinks like soda, juice, or milk and focus on drinking enough water. How much water we need varies from person to person, but a good starting goal for most adults is 70 ounces of water per day.

Your doctor may also talk to you about how to safely increase your exercise levels to help your body utilize extra sugar. If your diabetes is highly uncontrolled, you may also be prescribed medicine to help lower your blood sugar levels.

If you are currently experiencing diabetic symptoms, have uncontrolled diabetes, would like to be tested, or want to discuss available medications, make an appointment with the Laurel Health Centers today.

All Laurel Health locations offer both in-person and telemedicine appointments to ensure you can be seen quickly and safely. Laurel also offers a sliding fee program for income-eligible patients to ensure all patients have access to high-quality care regardless of their ability to pay or insurance status.

Dr. Mark Molckovsky is currently accepting new patients at the Lawrenceville Laurel Health Center. To make an appointment, please call 570-827-0125 or visit laurelhc.org.

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