Community Events

Learn the ABCs of diabetes for National Awareness Month

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A woman learns more about eye care during a diabetes health fair in Pottstown. The chronic disease can lead to blindness if left untreated. Michilea Patterson — Digital First Media

By Michilea Patterson, The Mercury

Thanksgiving is right around the corner but the month of November celebrates more than the food heavy holiday. November is also National Diabetes Awareness Month. So before families sit down to a meal of turkey, dressing and desserts, it’s important to understand the disease that affects millions of Americans.

Almost 30 million Americans have diabetes and 86 million people have prediabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. The disease can lead to blindness, kidney failure, heart disease, amputations and more. There are two types of diabetes and both affect the insulin of the body.

“Insulin is a substance that your body makes and uses to turn sugar into energy,” according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

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A poster displaying blood glucose targets is displayed at a diabetes health fair in Pottstown. People with type 2 diabetes must monitor their blood glucose, also know as blood sugar, levels regularly.

Type 1 diabetes is when the body doesn’t make enough insulin. There are no known ways to prevent this type of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is when the body can’t use insulin properly and unlike type 1, type 2 diabetes is preventable with lifestyle changes.

The American Diabetes Association currently estimates that one in three people will develop diabetes in their lifetime. Those with prediabetes have higher than normal blood sugar levels but not high enough to be considered diabetic. Out of the 86 million people that have prediabetes, about 90 percent of them are unaware they have the condition.

“15 to 30 percent of people with prediabetes will develop type 2 diabetes within five years,” stated the American Diabetes Association.

Debbie Zlomek, education coordinator for the Pottstown Medical Specialists Inc., said diabetes is a chronic disease that affects millions and there are many people that don’t realize they have it.

“It’s a growing epidemic and we want to be proactive,” Zlomek said.

Pottstown Medical Specialists Inc., or PMSI, is a physician-owned group practice with offices in Berks, Chester and Montgomery Counties. The medical group had their first annual diabetes health fair in Pottstown last week. Zlomek said PMSI is an accredited diabetes program and they host education classes about the disease every month.

“Prevention is the key and understanding your chronic disease so education is a vital part of the treatment plan,” she said.

Kimberly Slifer, PMSI director of clinical operations, said diabetes is linked to a lot of other health conditions which was shown through the variety of vendors represented at the health fair. People learned about eye care, nutrition, sleeping quality and more. Slifer said some people were surprised the diabetes event included information about sleep wellness.

“Diabetics are typically overweight. Overweight patients snore and are at a higher risk for having sleep apnea,” she said.

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Three types of CPAP sleeping machines are displayed at a diabetes health fair in Pottstown. CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure and the machines are used on individuals with sleep apnea. Many diabetics are overweight and can also have sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a disorder where a person has shallow breaths or pauses in their breathing while they sleep, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

“As a result, the quality of your sleep is poor, which makes you tired during the day. Sleep apnea is a leading cause of excessive daytime sleepiness,” stated the institute.

Slifer said lack of sleep from the condition can make it hard for diabetics to follow instructions for their treatment. She said doctors usually recommend regular exercise but a person may not have the energy to do so if they have sleep apnea.

Donna Reider, of the Sleep Wellness Center of Pottstown, was one of the vendors at last week’s health fair. She said sleep apnea can actually accelerate the conditions that diabetics have like high blood pressure. Reider informed attendees of the fair about three types of CPAP masks that people with sleep apnea wear to help them breathe better.

“CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure,” Reider said.

Type 2 diabetes is a condition that involves the blood sugar levels in the body so nutrition is an important part of treatment and prevention. Jen Heffernan is a nurse practitioner and health coach for Take Shape for Life. Participants of the nutrition program eat six meals a day including options that are ordered online.

“It’s not just a short term fix but we’re really trying to make this a lifestyle change for the long term,” Heffernan said. “It’s really using food as fuel and eating every two to three hours. That’s what keeps your blood sugar stable.”

Heffernan said the nutrition program has several clients that have lost close to 100 pounds or more. She said one lady was on the program lost 145 pounds.

“She was on insulin (diabetic medication) four times a day when I met her. She did the program for a little over a year and she is now not even prediabetic. She’s off all of her medications,” Heffernan said.

In addition to making healthy eating decisions, it’s also important for people to exercise regularly to prevent diabetes or to control the disease.

“30 minutes of exercise a day can reduce your risks of developing type 2 diabetes by 40 percent,” stated the International Diabetes Federation.

Kathy Rigg of Dynamic Physical Therapy & Aquatic Rehabilitation Centers attended the diabetes fair to talk about the exercise programs offered. There are centers located in Media, Pottstown, Lansdale, Sinking Spring and more. She said the rehabilitation center gets diabetics to add more movement in their day and some locations offer aquatic therapy. Moving in the water is soothing for individuals that have diabetic nerve pain, Rigg said.

“I know some patients have lost their ability to drive due to neuropathy,” she said adding that all their centers provide free transportation for their patients to facilities.

For more information about the Pottstown Medical Specialists Inc., visit their website at www.pmsiforlife.com. For more information about diabetes including diabetes rates for each state, visit the American Diabetes Association website www.diabetes.org.

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