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Ask A Doc: Diabetes

Katie Rhew, Family Nurse Practitioner at Mercy Health Physician Partners North Ottawa Family Medicine answers your questions about diabetes.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that inhibits the body’s ability to digest sugar. There are two types of diabetes. Type I diabetes is when your body simply does not produce insulin, which is the chemical that helps us digest the sugar that we eat and drink. It is usually discovered early in life (before age 25). Type II diabetes is much more common.  People with Type II diabetes have built up a resistance to insulin, and their bodies can no longer process sugar properly.

What causes diabetes?

Type II diabetes typically results from a diet high in carbohydrates and low in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.  This, combined with a lack of exercise, can lead to diabetes.

What are the symptoms?

The most common warning signs in adults are increased thirst, urination and hunger.  Numbness in the fingertips, or changes in eyesight, are also warning signs.  Children can also develop diabetes.  Their symptoms often include fatigue and unintended weight loss.

How is diabetes diagnosed?

Routine blood work usually includes a test for glucose.  If that result indicates that you are pre-diabetic, your doctor will probably discuss lifestyle modifications with you.  If the result is high enough, your doctor may prescribe other tests to determine your status and what to do next.

How do you treat diabetes? 

Diabetes is a progressive disease.  If you are able to detect it early, then lifestyle modifications can be very effective.   Simple steps, like increasing your intake of water and decreasing your intake of sugary drinks (including alcohol), can have a big impact.  The food you eat is probably the most important form of treatment.  I always recommend that patients follow the Healthy Eating Plate recommendations developed by Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health.  This combination of whole grains, healthy proteins, fruits and vegetables will help guide patients towards foods that have lower overall sugar and require a longer digestion process (therefore slowing the release of insulin into the bloodstream).

Once diabetes has progressed to the point that lifestyle modifications are not enough, the treatment becomes more intense.  Oral, or perhaps injected insulin, can be required to keep the body’s sugar levels in check.

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