When I was expecting my first child, I embraced everything about being pregnant; especially the ability (and I thought inalienable right) to eat anything I pleased. And that’s exactly what I did. The hospital where I was working at the time had one of the best coffee shops in the area. My favorite part of the day was my afternoon stroll down the hall to indulge in one of their famous milkshakes — complete with real ice cream, vanilla syrup and malt powder.
My basking in this decadent pastime came to a screeching halt when I went for my routine pregnancy glucose (blood sugar) screening. My OB/Gyn took one look at my results and immediately put an end to all things sweet (and anything else that would cause my blood sugar to rise to insane levels). I had gestational diabetes, a condition, like Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, that causes high glucose levels.
Gone were the milkshakes, breads, pasta, desserts and anything else carbohydrate-rich. I had already gained more weight than I probably should have at that point, so I adhered to a more diabetes-friendly diet that included meats, poultry, fish and vegetables. Once I delivered my son, my blood sugar returned to normal levels.
The gestational diabetes returned during my second pregnancy, but I knew to stick to a healthier diet as soon as I found out I was pregnant, so I was able to control my sugar levels and as a result, only gained about half the weight I did during my first pregnancy (I guess there is something to be said about healthy eating).
I vaguely remember my doctor saying during one of my post-delivery visits that I needed to be careful about the diabetes coming back later in life because I was now predispositioned to developing the disease. I probably affirmed his comment with a polite nod of the head but never really thought twice about it as I entered the role of a working wife and mother of two.
Fast forward about 20 years. I’m sitting in my doctor’s office waiting for my annual physical. I had fasting blood work done a few days before, so I was expecting this to be a quick review of my results, a recommendation to lose 10 pounds (yes, those pesky pregnancy pounds lingered) and then be sent on my way.
“You have Type 2 diabetes,” my doctor said to me as he sat down on the stool across from me. I have to admit, it caught me by surprise. After processing the news, we discussed my options. My sugar levels were still low enough that I didn’t require medication immediately, but I was going to have to make some drastic lifestyle changes — not just for a few weeks or months, but for the rest of my life.
So I revamped my entire diet, reintroducing the healthier foods I had eaten during my pregnancies, and began exercising. I dropped 20 pounds and honestly, feel better than I have in a long time.
But managing my diabetes will be a lifelong effort. I am among the 23.6 million people in the United States with the disease. And of those, approximately 5.7 million are still undiagnosed. Even those who do know they are affected by this disease may not be seeking the help they need. It’s important to remember that once you receive a diagnosis, you need to be educated on diabetes management.
Learning to manage my diabetes has been a multi-faceted approach to understanding the disease and how it can affect my body. According to Barbara Buckles, RN, CDE, diabetes nurse educator at Scott & White Healthcare, complications of mismanaged diabetes can include blindness, heart disease/stroke, kidney failure, and neuropathy, which leads to non-healing foot ulcers.
At Scott & White’s Diabetes Education Basics class, Buckles teaches individuals with diabetes (as well as those who are at risk of developing the disease) how to achieve their blood sugar goals through proper eating and exercise. She stresses the importance of learning to manage the disease by following a care schedule of screenings that include:
- A1C test (monitors glucose level) – every three months
- Blood pressure – every three months
- LDL/HDL/Triglycerides – annually
- Urine protein – annually
- Retinal eye exam – annually
- Visual foot exam – every three months
- Complete foot exam – annually
- Dental exam – every six months
Buckles also recommends reviewing your diabetes treatment plan with your physician every three months, and participating in some kind of formal diabetes education program annually and attending a diabetes support group.
“Sometimes a person’s status has changed, they are beginning new therapies, or just need a refresher course,” she explained. “Education is the key. If you know your blood sugar levels are borderline and you don’t do anything about it, diabetes will eventually happen to you. Understanding the disease and doing everything you can to prevent or delay its onset is the best medicine.”