A Dangerously Silent Disease

Posted On November 7, 2017

The symptoms of diabetes are typically very subtle, which is why regular doctor visits are important – for adults and children. 

By Jackie Perrone

Many people dislike the idea of running to a doctor every time they feel under the weather. But if the widely-prevalent, insidious disease called diabetes has sneaked up on you, a simple blood test by your medical professional will flag it immediately. Proper treatment can control the problems and return you to an active and productive life. Diabetes was once a virtual death sentence, but responds to today’s medical interventions; with proper supervision and care, a person with diabetes now can look forward to a normal and even healthy life.

Distinguishing between Type I and Type 2

Lisa Tucker holds the title of Outpatient Diabetes Educator at Palmetto Health in Columbia. She helps parents and children sort out the challenges of living with diabetes, starting with the distinction between Type 1 and Type 2. (Type 1 had been commonly tagged “juvenile diabetes,” but since it is now known that persons of any age may develop it, that title is no longer used.) In both cases, correct diagnosis provides the road to successful treatment.

Patients with Type 1 diabetes can produce no insulin or only trace amounts, and cannot achieve the healthy processing of sugar in a normal diet. It may be diagnosed at birth or soon after, and will require a lifelong administration of the missing insulin. This extreme stress on metabolism compromises health and threatens a normal lifespan.

A patient with Type 2 diabetes produces some of this vital secretion, but not enough to get the job done, and needs a boost to stimulate the system. A healthy diet, regular exercise, and perhaps some medication usually overcomes the symptoms. Alarmingly, Type 2 is appearing in children with increasing frequency, usually  because of unhealthful habits. A constant dedication to eating the right foods (and foregoing the wrong ones) along with plenty of physical activity is required to keep the disease at bay.

Adults and children need to watch for the danger signals. Tucker points out that Type 1 symptoms may occur suddenly, and can include unexplained weight loss, increased thirst, fatigue and blurred vision. Type 2 is characterized by similar symptoms which probably will develop gradually.  In both cases, the cause is the same: too much glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream.

“Healthy lifestyles, physical activity and weight control should be integrated throughout the entire family. Incorporating fruits and vegetables into the daily diet is a must. Being physically active for at least one hour a day will help decrease the chance of developing Type 2 diabetes. Diabetes can be controlled with a consistent treatment plan,” said Tucker.

Sometimes, a drastic change in lifestyle can bring about the desired return to health. And yes, it means giving up some of your favorite and even addictive goodies, in favor of lighter foods. Sugar and fats are to be eschewed; vegetables and fruits and lean meats must replace the calorie-laden desserts and starches you habitually choose. Go easy on the alcohol, too; how about some ice water instead of the wine or cocktail you thought you needed? As far as exercise goes, simply walking around the neighborhood, often and briskly, is a good start. Bicycling, jogging, swimming, hiking – Mother Nature has provided us with a world to enjoy on our own two feet. Couches and television were invented by humans.

Diabetes in Children

Parenthood is tough enough under the best of circumstances. Add in the frightening element of diabetes and you face a stern reality requiring discipline and attention – not only for the parents but also the child. 

A young medical student gave birth to her first child and practiced her newly- acquired medical skills at home. While conducting a routine examination of her seven-month-old son she realized something was dreadfully wrong. This baby was always thirsty, and frequently lethargic, symptoms not to be expected in a healthy infant. The child was rushed to the emergency room, where his blood sugar measured 692 (100 is the norm) and steps were taken to prevent him slipping into a coma. 

This family’s lifestyle now revolves around frequent measuring of their son’s blood sugar, usually five times a day, sometimes every two hours. 

Skilled medical professionals are a necessary part of the team when diabetes is diagnosed. Parents should be watching for excessive thirst, lethargy, frequent urination, blurred vision, nausea and/or abdominal pain. Genes may play a part in this onset, but a healthy lifestyle is the first line of defense in combatting it. When the focus is on healthy eating and regular physical activity, the whole family will benefit. 

Long-term problems of diabetes include kidney disease, nerve damage, heart disease, and health issues affecting the eyes and feet. Some statistics show that diabetes is THE leading cause of blindness in North America. Kidney failure and heart disease lessen the chances of a full life-span. 

“Nearly 10 percent of all people in the United States are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes,” Tucker says. “Due to the rise in childhood obesity, the children in South Carolina are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at alarming rates. Identifying at-risk children can prevent or delay the development of Type 2 diabetes. Early diagnosis and treatment are important.

Right here in the Midlands, we have access to skilled professionals who can oversee the regimen which brings about a return to healthy living. Don’t be timid about asking for help; your future may depend on it.