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You're Diabetic


Does life lose its sweetness when you discover you have diabetes?

By Ivan Olegario, M.D.

 
JULY 2012 


People who discover they have diabetes are often afraid even before fully understanding the realities of diabetes. This is part of the human condition—the fear of the unknown. But a better understanding of the self, the disease’s scope, and how it may or may not limit the body can help a person become more empowered and feel less like a victim. Knowledge is what makes the patient work with or around diabetes, instead of citing it as a limitation that prevents him from living a full life.


What a new diabetic needs to know

Newly-diagnosed diabetics should be aware of the causes and effects of their blood sugar rising to above-normal levels. This excessive sugar slowly damages a person’s organs, such as the heart, eyes, kidneys and nerves. An important goal of treatment is to lower blood sugar to near-normal levels through correct diet, proper exercise and medicines.

It’s extremely important to look for a doctor you can trust and easily talk to. Diabetes is a complex disease, and it’s important that you have a doctor who can answer any and all questions you need to ask.


A new diabetic’s diet

Diet is the cornerstone of controlling blood sugar, because blood sugar comes from the carbohydrates we eat. This includes not just sweet foods, such as candies, desserts and soda, but also rice, pasta and bread. But since your body also needs a regular supply of carbohydrates—abnormally low blood sugar is also dangerous—the keyword is moderation.

Small, frequent meals are necessary for diabetics, consisting of either a snack or a meal that has at most half a cup of rice or pasta, or a roll or two slices of bread, with a matchbox-sized piece of meat. Five to seven small meals distributed all throughout the day are necessary. Avoid fatty or fried foods, since these can screw up the way your body metabolizes sugar, and accelerate the damage caused by diabetes.

To avoid feeling deprived, load up with water and fiber, which can trigger satiety but not increase your blood sugar. Salads, oatmeal and fruits are good sources of fiber, but with the latter two, it’s important to watch your servings.


Exercise for new diabetics

Exercising regularly helps the body burn extra sugar. This includes brisk walking, aerobic dancing, jogging, biking or swimming. Do these aerobic exercises 20 to 40 minutes a day, for at least four days a week.

Diabetics must take special precautions when exercising:

• Drink lots of fluids because diabetics are more prone to dehydration during exercise.

• Watch out for low blood sugar. This can happen during exercise especially when you are on medication and a strict diet. Symptoms include dizziness, weakness, fainting, anxiety, irritability, restlessness, anger, extreme hunger, palpitations, cold sweats, or numbness or a tingling sensation in the fingers. When any of these symptoms occur, drink a sugar-containing beverage or cola, or eat some sugar or candy, then see your doctor immediately.

• Watch your feet. Diabetics are more prone to developing wounds on the feet, which can worsen and turn to gangrene. Always wear correctly-fitting training shoes. Throw away shoes that are broken or worn out. Every day, inspect your feet for small wounds, especially between the toes. Visit a doctor when you find wounds for proper treatment.


Your medicines

For patients with mild diabetes, proper diet and exercise are enough to control blood sugar. However, for some people, medications may be required, and there are two types available: oral hypoglycemic drugs (OHAs) or insulin.

OHAs are medicines taken daily as tablets or capsules, and there are many different kinds of OHAs, each kind with its own mechanism of action and side effects. Talk to your doctor about which medication will suit your condition, as well as how to take them.

Like OHAs, there are many types of insulin—synthetic versions of the hormone normally secreted by the pancreas. These are reserved for more severe disease and require a doctor’s prescription. A powerful drug that requires daily injection, it enables patients to control their diabetes—and as a result live long, productive lives unhampered by the disease. Patients usually get used to injecting themselves with insulin in the long run, and it becomes a mere part of their day-to-day lives.


For more tips on living with, and despite, diabetes, get a copy of the July issue of HealthToday, out now in bookstores and newsstands.






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