You have no idea why you've been feeling so tired lately. You're also going to the bathroom more often than usual. Growing concerned, you decide to check in with your physician. She says you could have prediabetes and suggests running a test.
You're relieved. Diabetes? You'll just watch your sugar intake. It's no big deal.
But this line of thinking can be dangerous.
"I think it's the perception of diabetes that makes people not take it seriously,” warns Joe M. Llenos, MD, a board-certified family medicine provider at West Valley Medical Center. “Most people think it is just a sugar issue, and that it's not going to cause any problems.”
Dr. Llenos, who also serves as medical director of the West Valley Advanced Wound Care Center, explains the causes behind diabetes and why people tend to underestimate it.
Why Do People Underestimate Diabetes?
How prevalent is prediabetes?
2010: 79 Million Americans 20 years and older had prediates. 2012: 86 million Americans 20 years and older had prediabetes
Source: American Diabetes Association
1. Patients Aren't Aware of the Dangers Diabetes Poses.
“If you don't know what you're dealing with, you tend not to think about it,” Dr. Llenos explains. “You don't want to be bothered by it.”
Dr. Llenos references an article he recently read about the perception of diabetes in Australia.
“The article states that 60 percent of Australians do not associate diabetes with complications like stroke and heart attack,” he says. “That gives you a picture of how we don't think of diabetes as problematic.”
2. Unaware of the Symptoms
Dr. Llenos says classic symptoms for diabetes would be:
- Unusual weight changes
- Frequent urination
- Frequent thirst
Many times, his patients believe these symptoms masquerade as something else, and they try to compensate for it.
“We're just plain tired from having one or two jobs, keeping up with kids' activities, or just trying to adjust to the daily grind of the day,” he says. “We try to mask the fatigue by either drinking energy drinks or drinks with a lot of sugars, and it doesn't help but seems to make it worse.”
“A lot of times, my patients would come in and they would have these symptoms,” says Dr. Llenos. “And one of the common diagnoses will include diabetes.”
3. A Health Belief Model
“A health belief model explains why people behave they way they do in regard to their health,” explains Dr. Llenos.
The model describes people who are generally not doing preventive measures or seeking help, and they don't have enough motivation to do so unless there is perceived benefit or threat, he adds.
What's At Risk With Type II Diabetes?
The most prevalent form of diabetes is Type II, where your body shows signs of being insulin-resistant.
"Sugar is the fuel for our bodies. But when you have a high amount in your body, and it's not using it effectively, it becomes like a toxin.
Source: Joe M. Llenos, MD, Family Medicine
“Your body is either not producing enough insulin, or you are producing insulin and your body is not using it properly,” explains Dr. Llenos.
It's also on the rise considering the obesity epidemic, which contributes to it.
“Then, it affects your eyes, your kidneys, and your nerves,” warns Dr. Llenos.
He says complications of diabetes include:
- Kidney failure, leading to dialysis
- Nerve damage
- Foot complications
- Problems with blood vessels
“It's not as simple as not putting sugar in your coffee,” Dr. Llenos stresses. “It's a metabolic problem, so you'll need to do more than just cutting back on sugar.”
A metabolic disorder is when the process your body uses to get energy from food becomes disrupted, says the National Library of Medicine.
Changes To Make Right Now
Lifestyle changes right away and efforts to lose weight are the first changes that need to be made.
“You can do something as simple as 20 minutes of exercise six times a week,” he says. “Or 40 minutes of intense, huffing and puffing, aerobic exercise three times a week.”
Dr. Llenos also cites a June 2013 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that shows walking for 1 minute and 40 seconds every 30 minutes of sitting has shown significant reduction in blood sugar and insulin compared to people who exercised 30 minutes in a day.
“That is a great option for people who don't have 20 to 30 minutes outside of work,” he adds.
For diet, Dr. Llenos says immediately avoid the biggest processed foods culprits:
- White bread
- Fried foods
“I encourage my patients to aim for 10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day and six of the servings are vegetables,” Dr. Llenos recommends. “Fruits that are unprocessed though, so not in a can with sugary syrup.”
“You want the natural sugars, fibers in the fruit, and you want the natural fibers in the vegetables,” he adds. “If you eat 10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, it will help you curb that craving you have for cookies, chips, and other processed foods.”
Once patients start changing their diet and exercising, Dr. Llenos then sends them to a diabetes educator to refine their dietary goals. The last step in discussion: medication.
“Medication will help, but it will only make a small improvement if you don't change your lifestyle,” warns Dr. Llenos.
To learn more about being prediabetic and diabetes in general, schedule an appointment with a physician at West Valley Medical Center.
Join Dr. Joe Llenos and certified diabetes education Greta VanDyke for the answers to frequently asked questions about Type II Diabetes, including:
- What is diabetes and what affect is it having on my health?
- What should I really be eating as a person with diabetes?
- How do I navigate through all the medications, supplies and expenses?
Thursday, November 5
West Valley Medical Complex
1906 Fairview Ave., Caldwell, 4th Floor