February 17, 2010

Health Team helps people fight diabetes

As published by The Erin Advocate

When diagnosed with a life-threatening condition, you may be motivated to do some things you should have been doing all along.

With diabetes, both prevention and treatment revolve around the good lifestyle habits that everyone knows about – eating healthy food, getting regular exercise and losing excess weight. Easier said than done of course, but the urgency may be absent because many people do not even know that they have diabetes.

"You cannot go by how you feel," said Pat White, a Registered Dietician and Certified Diabetes Educator with the East Wellington Family Health Team (EWFHT). Even if there are no symptoms, people with specific risk factors should speak to their doctor about diabetes testing.

"Doctors are more aware and are very proactive," she said. "Once you know, you can improve your lifestyle."

She hosts sessions for Erin and Rockwood residents on Diabetes Prevention, Learning to Live with Type 2 Diabetes and Meal Planning (not just for diabetes). These events are free (your tax dollars at work), and open to all residents, even if they do not have a doctor at the local Health Team.

The Canadian Diabetes Association calls it an epidemic, with 285 million people affected world-wide – including 3 million Canadians. That is expected to hit 3.7 million by 2020, costing Canadian healthcare $17 billion annually. A US study projected that a North American child born in 2000 stands a one in three chance of being diagnosed with diabetes during their lifetime.

People in wealthy nations are living longer, and obesity rates are climbing. Lifestyles are more sedentary, and we fall prey to the marketing of food that provides inadequate nourishment.

Type 1 or "juvenile" diabetes occurs when the pancreas fails to produce the hormone insulin, which regulates how the liver releases sugar to the body. Type 2 diabetes (90 per cent of cases) is a lack of insulin developing over time during adulthood, but now starting more often in teens. Preventive measures are especially important during the borderline state of pre-diabetes.

Here are the risk factors. Get tested if you: are more than 40 years old; have a parent or sibling with diabetes; are of Aboriginal, Hispanic, South Asian, Asian or African descent; are overweight; have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or glucose problems; have had diabetes during pregnancy; have had a baby that weighed over nine pounds at birth; or have been diagnosed with a hormone imbalance called polycystic ovary syndrome, with acanthosis nigricans (darkened patches of skin), or with schizophrenia.

Also get tested if you have: unusual thirst, frequent urination, unexpected weight gain or loss, extreme fatigue, blurred vision, frequent infections, slow-healing cuts, or sexual impotence.

Because high blood sugar is toxic to blood vessels and damages nerves, complications can happen throughout the body, increasing the risk of heart and kidney disease, vision loss and serious circulation problems. Smoking accelerates the complications. Visit www.diabetes.ca.

When diet and exercise cannot control the condition, it may be necessary to take insulin, or other medications, which can be expensive. Self-testing with a glucose meter and other regular testing, plus specific diet control is often needed to keep glucose levels in a safe range.

The good news is that a long and healthy life is an excellent possibility for diabetics – all the more reason to deal with the reality of a problem in its early stages. Do not wait until serious damage has occurred.

Local seminars are held at the EWFHT office in Erin, 18 Thompson Cres., or at the Rockwood clinic. Call 519-833-7576 or go to www.ewfht.ca for details.