If you’re living with type 2 diabetes, you’re among the millions of Americans looking for answers about how to manage it and minimize disease-related complications. Here’s the good news. If you take control and dedicate yourself to education and lifestyle changes, you can prevent, and even reverse, the onset of this complex disease.
What Is Type 2 Diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is a buildup of sugar, called glucose, in the bloodstream. This happens for two main reasons. The pancreas isn’t producing enough of a hormone called insulin to keep your blood sugar within a healthy range. And, the cells that make up all our tissues can’t use the insulin efficiently, which is called insulin resistance. These two problems lead to type 2 diabetes, which can lead to serious health problems such as heart disease, vision and hearing loss, nerve damage, oral health issues, and kidney disease.
Meet With a Diabetes Educator
A simple blood test will tell your health care provider if you have type 2 diabetes. If you do, they will have an honest conversation with you about treatment goals, getting educated about your disease, and next steps.
“We can be the first stop for a newly diagnosed patient,” says nurse manager Tonya McGahey, a certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES) at Atlantic Health System. “We spend a lot of time with new patients and those with long-standing diabetes, teaching them to manage their disease and to guide them towards lifestyle changes that will help improve their quality of life.”
Tonya explains that diabetes educators are typically nurses, dietitians, or pharmacists with specialized training. They will follow a patient closely through their first year and then meet with the patient annually for maintenance, and all of it is covered by most insurance plans.
“Patients find our services incredibly helpful through the changing stages of their life and health. Plus, we’re always seeing new advances to manage diabetes — continuous glucose monitors, insulin pumps, newer medications — so these annual visits give us a chance to share new information with our patients that makes living with diabetes a little easier.”
Start Taking Action
Here is a list of recommendations to avoid disease progression. If you notice any sudden health changes, reach out to your health care provider immediately.
- Follow a well-balanced, healthy eating plan
- Exercise 30 minutes a day, five days a week
- Check your blood sugar regularly (using a remote monitor)
- Take your medications as prescribed
- Make good lifestyle decisions (limit alcohol consumption)
- Develop healthy coping skills and risk reduction habits
- See your health care providers:
- Get an HbA1C lab test done every four months to measure your blood sugar
- Visit your primary care doctor or cardiologist every six months to measure blood pressure, cholesterol and kidney function
- See a podiatrist annually to assess progressive damage to the nerves and blood vessels in your feet
- See an ophthalmologist annually to check your vision and the blood vessels in your eyes
“The long-term impact of type 2 diabetes can be quite dire,” says Elkin Nunez, MD, associate medical director of endocrinology and diabetes at Atlantic Health System. “It causes blindness, end-stage kidney disease, amputation, heart failure, stroke, and heart attack. So, make no mistake about it, you must take this very seriously because, in many cases, these complications can be avoided — but only if you take action.”
Manage the Disease Over Time
Unlike many health conditions, managing diabetes begins and ends with you. It requires a few lifestyle changes, maybe medications or insulin, and regular health checkups. In addition to your diabetes educator, you’ll need to build a health care team that includes your primary care doctor or cardiologist, a dentist, a foot doctor, an eye doctor, a registered dietitian, and a pharmacist. Family members will also be on your care team for meal planning, exercise buddies, medication reminders, and glucose level checks.
“It is important to talk regularly with your health care provider about personalized treatment goals that will reduce your overall cardiovascular risk,” says Dr. Nunez. “We refer to this as getting your ABCs on target, which includes A1C (A), blood pressure (B), and cholesterol (C). The goal is to maintain a blood glucose (sugar) level at least 70% of the time within the recommended glycemic range of 70 to 180mg/dL. People can do this with glucose finger testing or more advanced technologies such as continuous blood glucose monitors.”
Find the Support and Services You Need
The specialists and services available at the Diabetes Education Centers at Atlantic Health System are covered by most insurance plans. This commitment to individualized care gives every patient the greatest chance of achieving their health goals for a healthy life.
“As diabetes educators, we support our patient in so many ways,” says Tonya. “Whether we’re helping with medical nutrition, medications, increased activity, weight loss, or simply finding ways to help them cope with the demands of diabetes, we’re here to set our patients up for a more fulfilling life.”
Be Proactive About Your Health
To stay safe and healthy, it's good to have a primary care provider who knows and understands your health history and wellness goals.