Know Your Numbers: Getting Technical about Diabetes

Diabetes is a disease that occurs when the body’s blood glucose level, also called blood sugar level, is too high. Blood glucose is our body’s main source of energy, which comes from the food we eat. Our pancreas produces a hormone called insulin, which takes the glucose that comes from food and helps get it into our cells, where it is used for energy. Sometimes the body does not make enough insulin or it does not use the insulin well and the glucose stays in the blood and does not reach the cells. Over time, too much glucose in the blood can cause a wide range of health problems.

Know your numbers
Shore Physicians Group diabetes educator Denyse Gallagher, APN, has been helping patients and the community-at-large understand and manage their diabetes for the past decade. Patients diagnosed with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes have to monitor the sugar level in their blood. “Diabetes patients really need to know their numbers,” explained Gallagher. “Not just what their blood sugar level is right now, but they need to know their A1C levels as well so they can keep their goals in focus.”

Gallagher explained that a person’s A1C number is the measure of a person’s blood sugar level over a three-month period. People with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes need to check their blood glucose levels daily (for some it is multiple times a day) to make sure they are keeping it within a manageable range. Keeping track of their A1C number allows them to see the trends in how their body is responding to certain foods. It allows them to set goals and make changes so they can get to and stay within safe levels. She cautioned that even for patients who are normally able to remain within safe A1C numbers, managing diabetes means being vigilant about the number because life happens and something like excess stress or even an infection unrelated to the diabetes may cause the A1C numbers to fluctuate.

Thanks to new technology, it has become easier for patients to manage their disease. The old method meant a finger prick to get a drop of blood each time to measure their glucose level and insulin injections. Now, glucose monitors like Free Style CGM Libre continuously track glucose levels giving the patient the information they need to make management quicker and easier without the need for the finger sticks. The information may be downloaded as well. Insulin pumps can deliver the proper amount of insulin through a pump without the need for an injection.

“The continuous monitoring is a two-fold benefit to the patient because it will show a trend. For example, if the number is 110, the patient will also know whether it is going up or down and how quickly is it going down. The patient is able to use those numbers as a predictive tool,” said Gallagher. “Every time you have a number, you have an opportunity to make a choice.”

Types of Diabetes
The most common types of diabetes are Type 1, Type 2 and gestational diabetes . For those with Type 1 diabetes, their body does not make insulin and their immune system attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that make the insulin. Type 1 diabetics must take insulin every day.

Patients with Type 2 diabetes, the most common type of diabetes, do not make or use insulin well. People can develop Type 2 diabetes at any age, even during childhood. However, this type of diabetes occurs most often in middle-aged and older people. Gestational diabetes develops in some women when they are pregnant. Most of the time, this type of diabetes goes away after the baby is born. However, those who have had gestational diabetes have a greater chance of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life.

According to the National Institute of Health, diabetes affects 1 in 4 people over the age of 65 and as of 2015, 30.3 million people have been diagnosed with diabetes. Gallagher estimated that on top of those 30 million who have been diagnosed, one in three people are walking around with diabetes or may be pre-diabetic but do not know it.

Who is more likely to develop type 2 diabetes?
You are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes if you are age 45 or older, have a family history of diabetes, or are overweight. Physical inactivity, race, and certain health problems such as high blood pressure also affect your chance of developing Type 2 diabetes. You are also more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes if you have prediabetes or had gestational diabetes when you were pregnant.

What health problems can people with diabetes develop?
If you ignore the symptoms of diabetes, Denyse Gallagher said you are flirting with disaster. These symptoms include frequent urination, feeling very thirsty, feeling very hungry even though you are eating, extreme fatigue, blurry vision, cuts and bruises that are slow to heal, weight loss even while eating more, and tingling, pain or numbness in the hands or feet

“The sooner someone sees their healthcare professional, understands what is going on with their symptoms, and gets it under control, the better. Left unchecked, the symptoms of diabetes can lead to significant health problems,” said Denyse Gallagher.

Diabetics are at risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, eye problems, dental disease, nerve damage and foot problems that can lead to amputation. While there is no cure for diabetes, it is a disease that can be managed through medication and lifestyle. Understanding their disease, knowing their numbers and keeping their goals in focus can make living with diabetes manageable.

Denyse Gallagher, APN, treats patients at Shore Physicians Group’s office located at 2605 Shore Road in Northfield. For questions about diabetes or to make an appointment with Gallagher or another member of the Shore Physicians Group endocrinology team, call 609-365-5300.