Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Diabetes Education Week

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By Diane Forrest, RN

Several years ago while I was going to nursing school, I worked part time at the college on a mobile nursing unit.  This was large recreational vehicle that was converted to a traveling clinic.   There was a waiting area, an exam room and a classroom on board.  It was funded by a grant from the Kellogg foundation, and the purpose was to travel to rural areas to help educate people and perform simple tests like checking blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels.

In these rural areas, the main topics for education included Sex Education for the younger people and Diabetes for the older ones.  Part of my job was to develop a teaching plan in these areas as well as other areas of concern.  Diabetes is a very complicated disease, and it also causes several other problems if it isn't controlled properly.  I guess that is why this week is devoted to Diabetes Education because there is so much to learn.

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Diabetes is a lifelong disease in which there is high levels of sugar in the blood.  A person can be born with it, or develop it later in life.  Your pancreas is responsible for producing insulin.  Insulin is necessary to control the sugar in your blood.  Diabetes can be caused by too little insulin, resistance to insulin, or both.  The normal range for blood sugar is 80 to120 mg/dL.  If your blood has too much sugar you will have hyperglycemia, when the level in your blood is over 126 mg/dL.  This is known as type 1, or insulin dependent diabetes.  Some symptoms of type 1 include:

  • Deep, rapid breathing
  • Dry skin and mouth
  • Flushed face
  • Fruity breath odor
  • Nausea or vomiting, inability to keep down fluids
  • Stomach pain
  • Being very thirsty
  • Feeling hungry
  • Feeling tired
  • Having blurry eyesight
  • Losing the feeling or feeling tingling in your feet
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Urinating more often


If your blood sugar is too low, below 80 mg/dL you will have hypoglycemia.  This is known as type 2 diabetes, or non-insulin dependent. The symptoms of this condition include:

  • Bladder, kidney, skin, or other infections that are more frequent or heal slowly
  • Fatigue
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Headache
  • Hunger
  • Nervousness
  • Rapid heartbeat (palpitations)
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Weakness


Diabetes can be diagnosed by blood testing.  A simple finger stick and using a machine called a glucometer will give you a reading almost instantly.   If your reading is below 80 mg/dL the remedy is to eat something.  If it is too high, above 126 mg/dL then you will need an injection of insulin.

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Caring for diabetes is not difficult once you learn to control it.  Making changes in your diet is the first step for controlling your blood sugar.  When you are diagnosed your doctor will place you on a specific calorie amount, and will prescribe your dosage of insulin should you require it.   You will have a glucometer at home so that you can frequently check your blood sugar at different times during the day and before meals.  Technology has improved this process to make it as fast and painless as possible.

Failure to monitor your diet and blood sugar can result in complications.  It will affect your nerve endings, and care of your feet is extremely important.  It can also affect your kidneys, requiring dialysis, eye problems and heart problems.

This week, as we recognize Diabetes Education, check your family history and see if it runs in your family.  Learn about the signs and symptoms, and if you notice any of these, stop by your doctor's office or clinic and have a finger stick to rule out diabetes.

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