When it comes to diabetes, a little education can go a long way. Left untreated, the disease can lead to complications that can be severe—and even life-threatening.
Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects the way the body metabolizes sugar (glucose), the body’s main source of fuel. November is Diabetes Awareness Month. It’s a good time for those with diabetes—and those who may not yet be diagnosed—to know that they can take control of this disease, instead of letting it control them.
Diabetes snuck up on Diane Cottrell, an employment manager at a medical equipment company in Lake Forest. She remembers hearing about her paternal grandfather, an amputee, who had diabetes, so she knew it ran in her family. But when she first experienced symptoms—frequent thirst and urination, nausea, weight loss, fatigue—she thought it was the flu. Eventually, Diane went to her doctor and then to the lab to be tested. Her blood- glucose levels were “off the charts,” she says. Her doctor prescribed several medications for diabetes, and one for high cholesterol.
“Understanding how to eat was the hardest part for me,” Diane says. She found valuable help and support through the Saddleback Memorial Diabetes Clinic. “I tried to educate myself by doing research on the Internet and reading books, but it wasn’t until I took the classes at the Saddleback Diabetes Clinic that I really figured it out.” She signed up for the Clinic’s patient education program, where she attended a series of five two-hour classes. Taught by registered nurses and dietitians who specialize in diabetes education, the sessions taught Diane how to manage her diet, how her medications work, and the important role of exercise in reducing her blood-glucose levels.
“Our goal with this program is to give patients control over their own health and well-being,” says Brian Chavez, M.D., endocrinologist at Saddleback Memorial and medical director of the Diabetes Clinic. “We teach patients how to self-manage their diabetes and prevent serious, long-term complications that might require hospitalization. We give them the tools to stay healthy at home.”
Untreated diabetes is a leading cause of blindness, heart disease and serious foot problems that can lead to amputation, Dr. Chavez notes. That’s why the importance of regular eye exams, meticulous foot care, and frequent blood pressure and cholesterol screenings are stressed during the classes. “With good blood-glucose and blood pressure control, many of the complications of diabetes can be prevented,” says Dr. Chavez. “Studies have shown that strict control of blood sugar and blood pressure levels in persons with diabetes helps reduce the risk of kidney disease, eye problems, nervous system deterioration, heart attack and stroke.”
Saddleback Memorial’s Diabetes Clinic is the only diabetes education program in South Orange County recognized by the American Diabetes Association (ADA). The program follows the National Standards for Diabetes Self-Management Education as defined by ADA.
“This program is a great resource,” says Diane. Since taking the classes, she feels more in control of her condition. “I am very conscious of what I eat. My diet has totally changed.” She also exercises regularly at a gym, has lost weight and, most importantly, her blood- glucose numbers have improved dramatically.