Op-Ed: A “Wake Up Call” For Diabetes on American Diabetes Alert Day

By Dale Toney, M.D., President, Kentucky Medical Association

An estimated 88 million Americans have prediabetes, and just over 1 in 10 have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. In Kentucky, nearly 12 percent of the adult population is affected by this disease. Week after week, Kentucky physicians care for patients with type 2 diabetes and the potentially debilitating complications it can cause. Unfortunately, it is also well-documented that pre-existing conditions such as diabetes can put patients at high-risk for complications should they contract COVID-19.

Today, March 23, is American Diabetes Alert Day, and the Kentucky Medical Association (KMA) and its thousands of physician members are encouraging Kentuckians to learn more about their risk factors and family history of the disease, and to talk to their doctor about prevention and treatment options. 

Diabetes is the condition in which the body does not properly process food for use as energy. Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose, or sugar, for our bodies to use for energy. The pancreas makes a hormone called insulin to help glucose get into the cells of our bodies. When you have diabetes, your body either doesn't make enough insulin or can't use its own insulin as well as it should. This causes too much sugar to build up in your blood. In those with type 1 diabetes, the body completely stops producing insulin, and this usually occurs in childhood or early adulthood. With type 2 diabetes, the body produces insulin, but the cells don’t respond to insulin the way they should. 

Prediabetes occurs when a patient has a higher-than-normal blood sugar level. It's not high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes yet, but without lifestyle changes, adults with prediabetes are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. More than 8 in 10 American adults with prediabetes don’t know they have it. These patients are also at risk for developing other serious health problems like heart disease and stroke.

The first step in preventing or delaying type 2 diabetes and related health problems is to screen and test for prediabetes. Patients are encouraged to talk to their physician during their annual well-visits about being screened for type 2 diabetes. Your physician can order a simple blood test for patients with risk factors for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, which include anyone 45 years of age or older, those who are overweight or obese, people with a family history of type 2 or gestational diabetes, and those who are physically active less than three times per week.

Patients diagnosed with prediabetes can be referred to the National Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) lifestyle change program to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes. Programs are conducted by lifestyle coaches who are trained on an evidence-based curriculum. The coach can engage and guide you through making—and sticking with—lifestyle changes. When patients join the program, they get a full year of support to make their new, healthy habits stick and keep them from slipping back into old habits. Kentucky also offers diabetes self-management education and support (DSME) groups, which can help you learn to manage your diabetes as part of your daily life. More information on these programs is available at https://chfs.ky.gov/agencies/dph/dpqi/cdpb/Pages/diabetes.aspx

Type 2 diabetes prevention is a priority of Kentucky physicians. As a focus of its “AIM for Better Care: Administrative Improvements in Medicine” initiative, KMA seeks to eliminate barriers to care for diabetes and to provide patients with the most updated resources and education to help prevent and manage this disease. 

On American Diabetes Alert Day, consider this a “wake up call” to talk to your physician about diabetes prevention and treatment and get on the right path to a healthier tomorrow. 

Dale Toney, M.D. is President of the Kentucky Medical Association. He is a board-certified internist in Lexington and is employed by the University of Kentucky Albert B. Chandler Hospital, is an Associate Professor at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and serves as the Division Chief of General Internal Medicine and Women’s Health. 


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