One of my many chronic illnesses is diabetes, so I want to take some time today to acknowledge and celebrate World Diabetes Day 2012.
How I Learned I Had Diabetes
I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in January 1999. To be honest, I don't remember if I was having any of the sign and symptoms of diabetes back then like:
- Frequent urination
- Excessive thirst
- Increased hunger
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Lack of interest and concentration
- Vomiting and stomach pain (often mistaken as the flu)
- A tingling sensation or numbness in the hands or feet
- Other signs include blurred vision, frequent infections and slow-healing wounds
For people who are developing type 2 diabetes, these signs and symptoms may be mild or absent.
My diagnosis was confirmed with blood tests that my primary care doctor ran, which included an A1c test.
Now I do have a family history of type 2 diabetes on my father's side of the family. My Grandpa developed diabetes in his retirement years and a cousin developed it as a young adult. But that doesn't really explain how I got it. Research is showing that having chronic Hepatitis C (Hep C) infection can trigger the development of type 2 diabetes, especially in people who have a family history of the disease like I do. According to Science Daily:
...Hepatitis C apparently brings on diabetes at 35 or 40, instead of 65 or 70.When I was diagnosed I was 34.
The Hepatitis C/Diabetes Connection
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that shuttles glucose from the blood stream into your cells where it is used it for energy. When this process doesn't work correctly it is called insulin resistance.
Hep C creates insulin resistance. It does this by turning off an enzyme called AMP-kinase (AMP-K,) which is responsible for maintaining the energy balance in our cells. When it is turned on, sugar is transported into our cells and energy production in the mitochondria occurs. When AMP-K is turned off, cells produce fat, which is what the Hep C virus needs to cover the newly replicated viruses it makes inside your cells.
(I also wonder if this is the reason why so many people living with chronic Hep C infection have such huge problems with fatigue...)
I know that many people who have diabetes never see an endocrinologist or diabetes educator. Their primary care doctor manages their care and maybe they get sent to a class or two on nutrition or diabetes self management.
Here are some of the benefits I see in having an endocrinologist working with you on your diabetic control:
- every endocrinologist's office has a certified diabetes educator
- most also have a nutritionist
- they provide ongoing diabetes education and support whenever you need it
- they can give you free samples of diabetes medications to try
- they can give you a free glucometer
- they know all the latest diabetes medications and can switch you to something different quite easily
Managing Diabetes is a Big Job
I know that if I hadn't been followed by an endocrinologist since 2003, I would have been in much worse shape! The biggest problem I've had managing my diabetes has been related to Hep C. I noticed that when my Hep C viral load went up, my diabetes would start going out of control. That meant switching my diabetes medications several times over the last 9 years to get things back under control.
Before I started Hep C treatment we discussed what might happen, since treatment can make your diabetes either worse or better. My endocrinologist sent me home with a sample of long-acting insulin so I could be prepared to start using it if necessary.
And sure enough, I ran into problems with high blood sugars, into the 300 mg/dL range at one point. Fortunately, the diabetes educator was there to help me learn how to use insulin. We corresponded weekly via email or phone until we got my insulin doses just right, and it took several weeks to get there. Plus she called in prescriptions for all the new things I needed: pen needles, lots of test strips, a glucagon kit and a second, short acting insulin.
Thank goodness for my endocrinologist and her team, because I know my primary care doctor just doesn't have that kind of time and flexibility to work with me when things get really wonky with my blood sugar.
Diabetes Education is Important
The theme of this year's World Diabetes Day observance is this: education is of the utmost importance in the prevention of diabetes complications.
I know this first-hand. I also know that the best sources for diabetes education are in an endocrinologist's office.
So please, speak up and ask for a referral to see one, even if it is just for a consultation. Let the experts in diabetes give you the information you need to prevent diabetic complications, like eye damage, nerve damage, heart disease and amputations, so you can live a full and healthy life despite it. Let them instruct your primary care doctor on what treatment course is right for you and be there to help if your blood sugar starts getting out of control.
I truly believe access to this kind of specialty health care should be a right for everyone who is diagnosed with diabetes.
As for me, we'll have to see if:
- I have cleared my Hep C infection (I'll know for sure in Febraury 2013)
- being Hep C negative has a positive effect on my diabetic control