By Hoty Smith

Two years ago, the American Diabetes Association launched “A Day in the Life of Diabetes.” This ongoing initiative combines online and offline programs with the goal of making people aware that diabetes doesn’t stop. Not for the 26 million children and adults in the United States who live with type 2 diabetes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and not for their families and the communities in which they live.

You may already be aware of the tremendous strain diabetes puts on a person’s health, even beyond the symptoms of the disease. Two out of three people with diabetes die from heart failure or stroke. It is the leading cause of kidney failure and new cases of blindness among adults. Nerve damage, sexual dysfunction and some forms of cancer can also be related to diabetes.

Houghton Smith
Houghton Smith

But were you aware of the strain diabetes puts on the healthcare system? The cost of providing medical treatment alone is estimated to be $176 billion. Then there are the indirect costs that affect more than just the individual patient, such as disability, loss of work and premature death. These add up to an additional $69 billion, according to the American Diabetes Association.

What’s more, another 79 million Americans have prediabetes, meaning they are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. One out of every three Americans could be diabetics by the year 2050 if this trend continues. The cost for treating that many patients would be staggering.

The good news is that it is possible to delay, or even prevent, prediabetes from turning into a chronic condition. That too, however, takes a concerted effort on the part of the individual patient, his or her family, and the greater community.

It all begins with making sure you and your loved ones are getting regular checkups. Unlike type 1 diabetes, an auto-immune disease for which the cause is still unknown, the onset of type 2 diabetes is associated with weight gain, eating habits and lack of regular exercise. A primary health practitioner will also consider your age, family history and ethnicity, but it is the measurements of your body-mass index and glucose level that will largely determine the course of treatment.

Once prediabetes has been diagnosed, diabetes education and counseling programs like the one here at BMH develop an individualized treatment plan in conjunction with the primary doctor. This might involve working with registered dietitians to set up a nutritious meal plan, setting up exercise guidelines, or a consultation with an endocrinologist.

The success rate for preventing diabetes by following these plans is well-established. The same approach has also resulted in the remission of type 2 diabetes in patients whose conditions have advanced from the prediabetes stage. In those cases, however, we would need to continue to monitor a patient for recurrence of the disease throughout the rest of his or her life.

The BMH diabetes education and counseling program is part of the hospital’s Community Health Team. The state has set a goal to reduce prevalence of type 2 diabetes to three percent. Currently, five percent of Windham County residents have the disease. By providing resources to patients with chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes and prediabetes, the overall costs of providing healthcare will go down as fewer patients develop complications that come with advanced stages of the disease. Talk to your primary health practitioner about getting screened for prediabetes, because the only time to stop diabetes is before it starts.

Houghton Smith, RN, CDE, is the coordinator of the Diabetes Education & Counseling program at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and a member of Brattleboro Health Service Area’s Community Health Team. He can be reached at 802-251-8429.

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