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Why Should You Care About Diabetes?

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

November is American Diabetes Month. To increase awareness of diabetes and its complications, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) and the American Diabetes Association (ADA) are asking the public "Why should you care about diabetes?"

"Diabetes can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness and amputations," said Roderick L. Bremby, Secretary of KDHE. "To help prevent the onset of diabetes and its complications, see your health care provider regularly. Follow a plan for regular exercise and a healthy diet, and don't smoke."

More than 216,000 adults in Kansas have diabetes, and about 65,000 of them don't know it because they haven't been diagnosed. Diabetes is the eighth-leading cause of death in the state. Nearly 13 percent of adult African-Americans in Kansas surveyed reported having been diagnosed with diabetes – more than any other racial or ethnic group. This compares with 6.4 percent for whites in the same survey. In addition, 10.7 percent of adult Hispanics have diagnosed diabetes as compared to 6.7 percent of adult non-Hispanics.

There are several types of diabetes, and each is marked by abnormally high levels of glucose, or sugar, in the blood. Someone who has diabetes might have some, all or none of the symptoms, which can include:

* Frequent urination
* Excessive thirst
* Unexplained weight loss
* Extreme hunger
* Sudden vision changes
* Tingling or numbness in hands or feet
* Feeling very tired much of the time
* Very dry skin
* Sores that are slow to heal
* More infections than usual

The only way to know if you have diabetes is to be diagnosed by a doctor. KDHE and ADA are also encouraging those who have been diagnosed with diabetes to take care of their health to avoid dangerous complications of diabetes. If you have diabetes, the time you spend now on eye care, foot care and skin care, as well as your heart health and oral health, could delay or prevent the onset of complications later in life. In addition, one of the best things you can do for your body is to stop smoking.

Heart Disease and Stroke

Currently, two out of three people with diabetes die from heart disease and stroke. Diabetes management is more than control of blood glucose. People with diabetes must also manage blood pressure and cholesterol and talk to their health provider to learn about other ways to reduce their chance for heart attacks and stroke.

Skin Care

As many as one-third of people with diabetes will have a skin disorder caused or affected by diabetes at some time in their lives. Prevent dry skin. Scratching dry or itchy skin can open it up and allow infection to set in. Moisturize your skin to prevent chapping, especially in cold or windy weather. Treat cuts right away. Wash minor cuts with soap and water. Only use an antibiotic cream or ointment if your doctor says it's okay. Cover minor cuts with sterile gauze. See a doctor right away if you get a major cut, burn or infection.

Foot Care

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People with diabetes can develop many different foot problems. Foot problems most often happen when there is nerve damage in the feet or when blood flow is poor. Plan a physical activity program with your doctor. Wash your feet every day and dry them carefully, especially between the toes. Wear shoes and socks at all times – never walk barefoot. Wear comfortable shoes that fit well and protect your feet. Ask your doctor about Medicare coverage for special shoes, if needed.

Eye Care

Diabetes can cause eye problems and may lead to blindness. Keep your blood sugar level and blood pressure under control, and stop smoking. See your eye care professional at least once a year for a dilated eye exam. Having your regular doctor look at your eyes is not enough, nor is having your eyeglass prescription tested by an optician. Make an appointment with your eye care professional if your vision becomes blurry, if your eyes hurt, become red and stay that way, or if you feel pressure in your eye or have other vision problems.

Oral Health & Oral Hygiene

If you have diabetes, you are at a higher risk for gum disease and other mouth-related problems. Brush and floss your teeth at least twice a day, and see your dentist at least twice a year. Controlling your blood glucose level is also important for preventing oral health problems if you have diabetes.


No matter how long you've smoked, your health will improve when you quit. The best-known effect of smoking is that it causes cancer. Smoking can also aggravate many problems that people with diabetes already face, such as heart and blood vessel disease. Smoking cuts the amount of oxygen reaching tissues. The decrease in oxygen can lead to a heart attack, stroke, miscarriage or stillbirth. Also, smoking increases your cholesterol levels and the levels of some other fats in your blood, raising your risk of a heart attack. Smoking damages and constricts the blood vessels. This damage can worsen foot ulcers and lead to blood vessel disease and leg and foot infections.


Alcohol is everywhere: at family gatherings, at cookouts, after the company softball game, and at parties. One very common question is "What would you like to drink?" If you have diabetes, what do you say? It all depends. Start by asking yourself three basic questions:

1. Is my diabetes under control?
2. Does my health care provider agree that I am free from health problems that alcohol can make worse – for example, diabetic nerve damage or high blood pressure?
3. Do I know how alcohol can affect me and my diabetes?

If you said "yes" to all three, it's OK to have an occasional drink. But what does occasional mean? The American Diabetes Association suggests that you have no more than two drinks a day if you are a man and no more than one drink a day if you are a woman. This recommendation is the same for people without diabetes.


Sources of stress can be physical, like injury or illness. Or they can be mental, like problems in your marriage, job, health or finances. In some people with diabetes, stress can alter blood glucose levels. It does this in two ways. First, people under stress may not take good care of themselves. They may drink more alcohol or exercise less. They may forget, or not have time, to check their glucose levels or plan good meals. Second, stress hormones may also alter blood glucose levels directly. You can learn to relax and reverse the body's hormonal response to stress. And, of course, you may be able to change your life to relieve sources of stress.