Taking care of your health: Robins diabetes educator explains diabetes, ways to manage condition

  • Published
  • By Holly Logan-Arrington
  • Robins Public Affairs

Diabetes – It’s a disease that affects the young and old.

November is Diabetes Awareness Month.

Paula Pugh, a registered nurse, a certified diabetes educator, and also a disease management nurse in the 78th Medical Group at Robins, said diabetes is a disease of high blood sugar.

“Your body’s main source of energy is glucose, a type of sugar,” she said. “Your body gets sugar from two main sources: the foods that you eat and the sugar that your liver makes when you have not eaten food. It is important to balance the level of sugar in your body. Your body helps to do this by releasing insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas. Insulin moves the sugar from your blood into your cells to use for energy.”

Diabetes comes in three forms:

Type 1 Diabetes

“Type 1 Diabetes is much rarer, about 5% of all diabetes,” Pugh said. “It is believed to be an autoimmune condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the beta cells in your pancreas that produce insulin. Type 1 Diabetes is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Treatment focuses on managing blood sugar levels with insulin, diet and lifestyle to prevent complications.”

Gestational Diabetes

“Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that is seen in pregnant woman who did not have diabetes before she was pregnant,” Pugh said. “In gestational diabetes, blood sugar usually returns to normal soon after delivery.”

Pugh said it’s important for a woman who has had gestational diabetes to continue to exercise and eat a healthy diet after pregnancy to prevent or delay getting Type 2 Diabetes. 

Additionally, Pugh advises these women to have their blood sugar checked every one to three years. 

Type 2 Diabetes

Pugh said someone with Type 2 diabetes may not have enough insulin, or the insulin that the body makes may not work as well as it should, causing the blood sugar to get out of balance and become too high.

“Type 2 diabetes is the most common type and starts as insulin resistance,” Pugh said. “This means your body can’t use insulin efficiently. When your body is not able to use insulin efficiently, this stimulates your pancreas to produce more insulin until it can no longer keep up with the demand. Insulin production decreases, which leads to high blood sugar.”

Pugh said the exact cause of Type 2 Diabetes is unknown. Contributing factors may include: poor diet, being overweight, lack of exercise and genetics. There may also be other factors and environmental reasons.

Pugh said being overweight, having blood pressure measuring 140/90 or higher, having high cholesterol, having a parent, brother or sister with diabetes, or being African American, American Indian, Asian American, Pacific Islander or Hispanic American/Latino heritage are some factors that can lead to Type 2 Diabetes. Also having a prior history of diabetes during pregnancy, giving birth to at least one baby weighing more than 9 pounds, and having physical inactivity – exercising less than three times a week can put a person at risk for developing diabetes, are other contributing factors to the disease.

However, Pugh said making the right lifestyle changes can help.

Eat Healthy 

“Eat fewer calories, smaller portions and foods that are low in fat, cholesterol, salt and sugar,” Pugh said. “Eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.  Eat more lean meats, poultry, fish, beans or eggs.”

Pugh said to take your time when you eat, limit alcohol, choose foods that are grilled or baked, not fried.  Also, avoid going shopping when you are hungry, and drink lots of water instead of soda, sugared drinks or fruit juice. 

Move more

“Talk with your provider about what exercises would be safe for you,” Pugh said. “Set goals in writing to increase your regular physical activity. Add more time slowly until you reach 30 minutes, 5 days a week.”

Pugh suggested while people watch TV that they walk or dance around the room, march in place or do some sit-ups and leg lifts.

Additionally, she said taking a walk during lunch time, delivering a message instead of sending an e-mail and using a smartwatch, fitness band or one’s phone to track steps can all help too.

Maintain Healthy Weight

Being overweight is a leading cause of Type 2 Diabetes and can keep your body from making and using insulin properly, as well as cause high blood pressure. Pugh said studies show that a moderate diet and exercise of about 30 minutes or more per day, 5 or more days per week, result in a weight loss than can delay and possibly prevent Type 2 diabetes.

Managing diabetes should be a team effort between the person and the individual’s physician, Pugh said.

“Without treatment, it can result in high levels of glucose in your blood and serious health problems,” Pugh said. “Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness, kidney disease and amputation.  It is often associated with high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol, heart disease and stroke.”

Pugh said to help control one’s blood glucose, in addition to healthy diet and exercise, is to check blood glucose levels, take prescribed medications as directed and keep medical appointments.

“Your health care team will advise you what your blood glucose target level should be,” she said.  “Your provider will also test your blood glucose level to determine if you need any changes in your medications.”

Proper diabetes management isn’t just a physical effort.

“Living with diabetes is a daily task,” Pugh said. “Stress can increase blood glucose levels. Many people feel sad or down when they are told they have diabetes. Feelings like these are normal. But frequent feelings of helplessness or hopelessness can be a symptom of depression.”

If you feel overwhelmed or are having trouble sleeping, Pugh said you should talk to your provider, minister or counselor sooner rather than later.

If you’re a patient at Robins Family Practice Clinic, there are three disease management nurses that can provide one-on-one education on preventing diabetes, managing diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and other health conditions. 

Robins Family Practice Clinic patients may call Central Appointments at (478) 327-7850 and request to speak with a disease manager. 

If your primary care is managed off base, check with your provider on education options available.  Houston Healthcare offers various classes for adults with pre-diabetes or diabetes. Call (478) 923-9771 for schedule of classes and to register.