November is diabetes awareness month, and it’s vital to learn the facts about this disease, which is one of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S.

Diabetes is a disease that can cause a number of other severe medical problems — it’s the most common cause of blindness, kidney failure and nontraumatic amputations, and it’s one of the leading causes of heart attacks and strokes.

And diabetes affects tens of millions of people: In 2018, 34.2 million Americans, or 10.5% of the population, had diabetes. Seven million more had diabetes but weren’t yet diagnosed. Currently, 88 million Americans have prediabetes, a condition that can lead to diabetes. More than 80% of people who have prediabetes don’t know it.

Dr. Mark Oertel, an endocrinologist with LMH Health, said there are three main type of diabetes: type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes.

“About 90% to 95% of diabetes cases are type 2, making it the most common,” he said. “Type 2 is where the body makes insulin but the body is resistant to its effects of moving glucose from the bloodstream to the body’s cells to use for energy.”

Oertel said type 1 diabetes is typically diagnosed in childhood, and it is caused by the pancreas not producing enough insulin. Gestational diabetes happens during pregnancy, and it can be a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes after delivery.

Some common risk factors for diabetes include being overweight or obese or having a family history of diabetes.

While diabetes can lead to serious health problems, it is also treatable, with more treatments coming out each year. Oertel said he first suggests focusing on lifestyle changes — increasing physical activity and eating a healthy diet with fewer processed or sugary foods.

Diabetic medications are also available, and some can assist with weight loss goals and improve heart and kidney function.

“Though diabetes can be very treatable, it is still the leading cause of death of more people than breast cancer and HIV combined annually,” Oertel said. “As an endocrinologist, I see some of the worst cases of diabetes and some mild cases as well.”

Oertel said that some people think the prevalence of diabetes means it isn’t that serious. He said that’s far from true, but that people with diabetes can live long, healthy lives with proper treatment.

Other misconceptions about diabetes abound. James Florez, diabetes education coordinator at LMH Health, said one of them is that if you are diabetic, you will eventually end up taking insulin.

“The truth is that many people can manage type 2 diabetes with just lifestyle alone,” Florez said. “Some will likely need an oral medication to help, but with proper management and a bit of work and focus, taking insulin does not have to be the answer.”

Having regular checkups with your primary care doctor is critical for preventing diabetes. You should also have lab work such as fasting glucose and cholesterol levels done once a year to help determine whether you have impaired glucose or insulin resistance.

“If you suspect you may have diabetes, I cannot stress enough the importance of contacting your health care provider for an evaluation and making lifestyle changes as soon as possible,” Florez said. “Education can also be vitally important.”

Florez said he encourages anyone with diabetes to attend a diabetes education program. Even if you have attended a formal education class before, it doesn’t hurt to have a refresher course.

“If you can tell, there is a bit of a pattern here,” Florez said. “Improving your overall health can protect you from becoming diabetic if you have prediabetes and can help manage your diabetes. This disease is serious, but all of us at LMH Health are here and ready to help you manage your diabetes so you can live your life to the fullest.”

Education and support

The LMH Health Diabetes Education Center is a referral-based clinic that provides comprehensive education for all aspects and types of diabetes. The center’s certified team, consisting of a registered nurse and a dietitian, provides education in small group sessions.

LMH Health also offers a diabetes support group that meets the second Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m. Because of COVID-19, this group now meets via Zoom.

Learn more about the Diabetes Education Center by visiting lmh.org or calling 785-505-3062.

— Jessica Brewer is the social media and digital communications specialist at LMH Health, which is a major sponsor of the Lawrence Journal-World’s health section.

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