Diabetes prevention and management is a growing nationwide concern, and in Washington State, it’s no different. One in three adults has prediabetes, according to the Washington State Department of Health. Amy Navarre-Cantrell, a PeaceHealth physician assistant at the Burlington Family Medicine Clinic, estimates around 10 percent of adults in our state have type 1 or 2 diabetes.
Despite those rather alarming statistics, there have never been more ways to help treat this incurable disease and prevent life-altering complications. Navarre-Cantrell points out that diabetes management tools have rapidly expanded in the last decade. “There are almost 65 different medications that we can utilize to help people manage their blood sugars,” she says. “When I first came to practice in 1995, there were three different kinds of insulin and one class of oral medications, and that was it. Now, there’s just a lot more to understand.”
Successful treatment of diabetes and prevention of complications fall on the shoulders of both doctors and their patients, who must understand how the disease affects them individually. For Navarre-Cantrell, the majority of her patients have Type 2 diabetes, which means they’re insulin-deficient, but not insulin-absent.
Besides getting on the right type of medication, the biggest thing patients can do is incorporate physical activity and a blood-sugar-friendly diet, she says. Navarre-Cantrell says she works to ensure new patients are able to attend a diabetes education course. She also advises they meet with a professional nutritionist – someone who is best equipped to help them make proper dietary adjustments.
“It can’t just be my voice that talks to them,” she says. “They have to hear it from other people to get different angles on the information, to make it stick in their own experience.”
Navarre-Cantrell wants patients to understand that seeing a doctor about their diabetes means committing to a path of personal wellness that’s more than medication-based.
“Diabetes management is not passive,” she says. “It’s not ‘I’m going to take this pill and everything’s going to be okay.’ It’s got to be, ‘I’m going to engage in the lifestyle changes necessary to keep me healthy.’”
Regarding nutrition, Navarre-Cantrell says she meets very few patients who are genuinely unhealthy in what they eat. The common problem, she says, is that they often eat too much. As a result, she breaks down nutrition monitoring into three primary components:
- Controlling your portion sizes
- The timing of your meals
- The actual nutritional content of what you’re consuming.
On the subject of exercise, Navarre-Cantrell says that overweight or obese patients, or those not otherwise engaged in regular exercise, have work to do. If they join a gym, they have to hold themselves accountable to actually go and work out. A great place to start with exercise, she says, is establishing the practice of going for daily walks.
Regardless of what one chooses for regular exercise, establishing a healthy routine will pay dividends. Furthermore, most patients likely won’t need to do more than the average 150 minutes of moderate physical activity recommended each week for healthy individuals. However, patients should also figure out their individual blood sugar levels before and after exercise, so that they can exercise safely without potential spikes or crashes.
Despite the importance of personal responsibility, Navarre-Cantrell also points out that part of having diabetes is not being too hard on yourself. It’s important to understand the complexity of the disease, and that it still requires medical intervention no matter how hard you try to be healthy.
“You can eat grass every day and run a marathon three times a week, and still struggle with your blood sugar,” she says. “Metabolically, there’s a lot of other stuff going on that happens to keep the sugars high. The emerging science of managing diabetes is understanding there’s a lot going on that creates this syndrome.”
Not properly treating diabetes can lead to a host of complications, some of which can be fatal. One of the most common, Navarre-Cantrell says, is the risk of cardiovascular disease and events like heart attacks and strokes. Also common are diabetic neuropathies, especially peripheral neuropathy, which result in weakness, numbness or pain from nerve damage, usually in the hands and feet. Some 60 percent of adult diabetes patients suffer with peripheral neuropathies, she says.
For primary care providers, Navarre-Cantrell says she and other doctors in the PeaceHealth network try to be as current as possible on understanding diabetes treatment trends, and ensuring their patients know the full extent of resources they can utilize.
With no cure for diabetes, managing the disease is essential to surviving with it long-term. It’s an investment of time, energy and money, but an investment in your health and happiness is always the best investment you can make. To schedule an appoint at the Burlington Family Medicine Clinic, visit the PeaceHealth website or call 360-856-7960.