Diagnosis: Diabetes

Every 20 seconds someone is diagnosed with diabetes. In fact, 23.6 million Americans are living with the disease.

November 23, 2010 

  • November is American Diabetes Month. What better time to learn a little about the disease and examine your risks for becoming diabetic?

    WHAT IS IT? Diabetes mellitus, most commonly known as diabetes, is a chronic, progressive metabolic disorder characterized by how carbohydrates, fat and protein are metabolized, which leads to high blood glucose levels. If not controlled, the disease can lead to long-term complications involving the eyes, kidney, nerves, heart and blood vessels.

    TYPE 1: Type 1 diabetes results from an autoimmune destruction of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas leading to a deficiency of insulin production. Stress and illness can trigger onset of Type 1 diabetes. The signs and symptoms are abrupt and include excessive thirst and urination, weight loss, loss of energy and visual disturbances. There is a genetic propensity for Type 1 diabetes.

    TYPE 2: Type 2 diabetes is characterized by either a progressive loss of insulin secretion from the cells in the pancreas or a resistance to insulin. The insulin resistance often is associated with being overweight or inactive. Genetics also play a role.

    DURING PREGNANCY: Gestational diabetes is diagnosed in pregnant women who develop a glucose intolerance. It is associated with insulin resistance and perhaps obesity and genetic predisposition. Women who experience gestational diabetes have a 50 percent chance of developing Type 2 diabetes in the next five to 10 years.

    WHO'S AT RISK? Individuals most at risk of developing diabetes include people who: are overweight or obese; are physically inactive; have a history or presence of high blood pressure; have abnormal cholesterol values; have a family history of diabetes; have a diagnosis of prediabetes; smoke cigarettes; have a history of polycystic ovary disease or valvular heart disease. Race plays a part, too.

    Source: Dr. Nicholas Loon, Hilton Head Island physician specializing in endocrinology and nephrology

  • Here are a few programs offered to people with diabetes or prediabetes in the Lowcountry:

    - Beaufort Memorial Hospital offers inpatient and outpatient diabetes education, including nursing assessments, dietary evaluations, exercise programs and diabetes classes. Details: 843-522-5635

    - Hilton Head Hospital offers individual nutrition counseling and training in how to interpret blood sugar levels. The hospital also holds classes on nutrition, physical activity, diabetes medication, coping and more. Details: 843-682-7348

    - Coas
    tal Carolina Hospital offers individual diabetes counseling and training. Details: 843-784-8000. The hospital's Center for Hyperbarics and Wound Healing will host free diabetic foot screenings from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Dec. 3 at the hospital. Diabetes can cause nerve damage, hardening of the blood vessels and other complications in the feet. Appointments are required for foot screenings by calling 877-582-2737.

Foiles, whose weight reached 300 pounds at one point, said he gave himself the disease by making poor choices. After his diagnosis, Foiles started taking oral diabetes medications. He worked with Hilton Head Hospital diabetes education coordinator Elizabeth Huggins, who gave him tips on cutting carbohydrates and losing weight. He started exercising and eating better, and lost about 120 pounds. Along with the weight loss, his blood sugar levels and blood pressure went down. And after about a year, he was able to stop taking the medications.

But weight management is an ongoing struggle for Foiles, who said he's gained back about 20 pounds. He said the last time he checked his blood sugar, it was still good, but he knows he needs to get back into the routine of exercising and eating right if he wants to be healthy.

"I guess it's like being an alcoholic," Foiles said. "I've got to get through that day. ... I've got to eat limited quantities, eat the right stuff ... and I haven't been as vigilant in the last year or so as I should've been."

But for others, such as Hilton Head resident John Scanlan, a diagnosis of diabetes wasn't a result of overeating or lack of exercise. The retired Marine had always worked out and eaten right, and his behavior did nothing to cause the onset of the disease. He has Type 1 diabetes, in which the body doesn't produce any insulin because of an autoimmune destruction of cells in the pancreas.

Because he already was taking good care of himself before being diagnosed in 2009, Scanlan said he didn't have to change a whole lot of his habits. What he added to his routine was time for checking his blood sugar levels and injecting himself with insulin twice a day.

"With Type 1 -- boom -- it hits you, and then you have to live with it for the rest of your life," Scanlan said.

Diabetes is a serious condition that can lead to heart disease, kidney failure, blindness or amputation of limbs if not treated. Treatment includes oral medications, insulin therapy and lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise. According to the American Diabetes Association, 23.6 million children and adults in the United States, or 7.8 percent of the population, have diabetes.

Hilton Head Hospital diabetes education coordinator Elizabeth Huggins said prevention is key to changing those statistics.

"It's got to start with each and every one of us and our families," Huggins said. "Taking that time to be a good role model for our kids ... healthier choices, portion control and physical activity. But the tough part is we get caught up in life, and next thing you know those good intentions, they're still good intentions."

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