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Control is Key to Avoiding Deadly Complications

August 28, 2012

Washington Hospital Seminar Offers Tips for Managing Diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic disease that must be properly managed to avoid serious complications like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and blindness. But if you have diabetes, you know how difficult that can be.

"I think it's very important to first understand what diabetes is and how it affects the body," said Khalid Baig, a family physician and pathologist who is a member of the Washington Hospital medical staff. "People with diabetes should learn as much as they can about the disease and how to keep it under control."

He will offer tips for managing the chronic disease at an upcoming seminar titled "Diabetes Control: Back to Basic Keys for Success" on Thursday, September 6, from 7 to 8 p.m. It will be held at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West), in Fremont. The seminar is part of Washington Hospital's free monthly Diabetes Matters education series.

Diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin or is not able to use it properly. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches, and other food into energy. When this process doesn't work properly, glucose (sugar) levels in the blood can get too high.

"With elevated blood sugar levels, the lining of the blood vessels gets damaged over time," Baig said. "Diabetes affects blood vessels throughout the body, from the brain all the way down to the feet. Every blood vessel is involved. If this damage occurs in the brain, you are more susceptible to stroke. If it occurs in the heart, it significantly raises your risk of having a heart attack. When it happens in the kidneys, it causes kidney disease. In fact, the majority of people who need dialysis treatments because their kidneys no longer work properly have diabetes."

Diet and Exercise

According to Baig, understanding the complications motivates people to make the necessary lifestyle changes to keep diabetes under control, which include eating right and exercising.

"Diet is the most important aspect of diabetes," he said. "Everything you eat affects your blood sugar."

Baig will talk about the role of carbohydrates and explain the difference between simple and complex carbs. Simple carbohydrates, which include both added and naturally occurring sugars, cause blood sugar levels to increase rapidly while complex carbs, found in starchy vegetables and grains, cause a sustained increase in blood sugar levels, he said.

"You need to understand how carbohydrates affect the body to develop a meal plan," Baig added. "You can't and shouldn't avoid carbs, but you need to understand how they impact blood sugar. It's important to develop a meal plan that provides a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables as well as lean protein. You don't have to give up the foods you enjoy in order to control your diabetes, but you do need to plan accordingly."

Exercise is also important in controlling diabetes and managing some of the other risk factors that can lead to complications like high blood pressure. In addition to helping with weight loss, physical activity helps the body metabolize glucose more efficiently, Baig explained.

"Excessive weight gain reduces the functioning of receptors that facilitate the body's use of glucose," he added. "You really need to keep your Body Mass Index (BMI) below 25. That's the magic number."

Monitor and Treat

Another critical component of controlling diabetes is continued monitoring. People with diabetes need to check their blood glucose levels regularly.

"Self-testing is very easy now," Baig said. "Technology has brought us more efficient testing equipment that requires very little blood to get an accurate reading. The machines are small and easy to carry."

While a simple blood test measures blood glucose at any given moment, the A1C test measures the average blood glucose level over a two to three-month period. It is an important tool for avoiding serious complications because it indicates how well blood glucose levels are being controlled over time, he added.

Taking medications properly is the final component of controlling diabetes that Baig will address. He will provide an overview of some of the medications that are available today, including those that stimulate the pancreas to produce more insulin, medications that reduce the production of glucose by the liver, and newer drugs that help the body's cells use insulin more efficiently.

"The bottom line is you have to get your diabetes under control before it damages your body and causes serious complications," Baig said. "It can be difficult, but it certainly is doable. There is a lot of information and support available. Work with your doctor, talk to a dietitian, and find out everything you can about the disease."

To learn about other diabetes programs at Washington Hospital, visit www.whhs.com/diabetes.