blood glucose level test

A blood glucose level test. — Erin Hull/The New York Times

Diabetes is a slow and often silent disease. By the time people develop symptoms they will have had years of elevated blood sugar that will have already caused widespread damage and complications. This can include cardiovascular disease, nerve damage and kidney disease. The good news about diabetes is that if you keep your blood sugar levels under control, you can stay healthy and even prevent diabetes and even stop complications from taking a toll on your body.

If you have diabetes, you have a disease in which the body cannot produce or use insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone that affects how our body uses glucose, a sugar that the body needed for your daily life. Like a flashlight needs a battery, your body needs glucose to keep running. When you eat fruits, vegetables and grains they are all converted to the sugar glucose. The glucose is released into your bloodstream. Your pancreas then produces a hormone called insulin. They help to release the glucose into every cell in your body. Without this release the glucose stays in your blood vessels.

The cause of diabetes is still unknown. Genetics and environmental factors such as obesity and lack of exercise play a big role in developing diabetes. There is no cure for diabetes.

Diabetes is listed as the seventh deadliest disease in the United States. The total annual economic impact of diabetes in 2002 was estimated at $132 billion. That is one out of every 10 health care dollars spent in the United States.

There are about 34.2 million people in the United States, or 6.3% of the population, who have diabetes. An estimated 13 million have been diagnosed with diabetes, but 5.2 million people don’t know that they have the disease. Approximately 2.7 million or 11.4% of all African Americans age 20 years or older have diabetes. Twenty-five percent of African Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 have diabetes. One in four African-American women over 55 years of age has diabetes. One-third of all African Americans don’t know it. Some of the most life-threatening consequences of diabetes are heart disease and stroke, which strike people with diabetes more than twice as often as they do others. Adults with diabetes have heart disease death rates 2 to 4 times higher than those without diabetes. African Americans with diabetes have an increased risk for heart disease, stroke and other macro vascular complications. Complications of diabetes can also include blindness, kidney disease and amputations.

If you control your blood sugar you control the diabetes:

Exercise: Most people don’t exercise enough and when they do, they don’t exercise hard enough. You need to challenge yourself everyday with at least 30 minutes of exercise.

Sleep maintenance: At night your bones secrete a hormone that helps to reset your pancreas. Your bones will not secrete this hormone unless you get enough sleep. To find out what your habits keep a diary of your sleeping habits. Record the time you go to bed, the time you wake-up, the total hours you sleep, your mental and physical state during the day; any naps and what you ate or drank before bed. After a few weeks, review your diary. You should be able to get good idea of what helps or hinders you from getting the sleep you need.

Check your feet: You should look for abrasions, cuts and blisters. You should go to your doctor if an injury to your foot doesn’t heal. You should get your feet checked by your doctor at least four times a year. It’s been suggested you take your socks and shoes off before your doctor comes into the examining room. This way you won’t forget to talk about your feet.

Check your eyes: You need to get your eyes examined more than twice a year. You should see your doctor as soon as possible if you have any vision problems.

Check your teeth: Doctors have known for a long time that people with diabetes have a higher risk for periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is a chronic bacterial infection of your gums that can lead to tooth loss. You should see your dentist at least four times a year. You should also floss and brush your teeth after every meal. If you have any changes with your teeth or gums you should see your dentist.

Maintain a good mental balance: Reduce stress and develop good coping skills. Other ways of dealing with stress include changing or improving personal character traits. These can include behavior changes such as assertiveness training, self-esteem enhancement, being flexible, improving organizational skills and time management.

Pick a good qualified doctor to handle your diabetes: In the stressed and compressed time frame of a doctor’s appointment, it’s very common for communication to be impaired. A recent survey of how much patients recalled following a general exam revealed that most could not remember more than of the medical problems their doctor diagnosed! Some patients visiting the ER for treatment could not remember the doctor’s name. Would you consult your banker, tax preparer or clergyman and leave the meeting without making sure you understood what was discussed or not know to whom you spoke? While many doctors are aware of the need to restate treatment plans or medication adjustments, others may not. Time restrictions decrease the amount of verbal reinforcement the doctor can offer. Ask for a brief written summary to make sure all points are covered and necessary prescriptions filled out. Ask what kind of follow-up is needed. Be prepared to take notes.

Remember, diabetes has no cure but it can be controlled and in some cases prevented.

If you have a fitness question or concern you would like addressed write to: “Tips to be Fit,” P.O. Box 53443, Philadelphia, PA 19105 or If you’ve missed an article of “Tips to be Fit” just search for “Tips to be Fit.”

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