Diabetes Simplified: Living with Diabetes After Diagnosis
Slowing the progression of diabetes
By Wil Dubois
So you survived your diagnosis. Good for you! Now you're worried about the rest of your life. After all, your doctor has probably told you that diabetes is a progressive disease, one that gets worse with the passage of time. No doubt you're worried about the progression of diabetes. What will this mean for you? How fast will it happen? Can you do anything to change it? Not to worry, I'm here to simplify things for you.
I know that you think you've only had your type 2 diabetes for a short time, but I have a secret to share with you: You've had diabetes for years, you just never knew it. Diabetes starts slow, taking a decade or more to get "bad" enough to cause discomfort and be discovered.
Your diabetes is a disease of insulin resistance. Your body makes insulin, it just doesn't use it smartly, so it needs to make a lot, and that causes problems over the long haul. You can think of it this way: Pretend that your body is a factory making a jazzy new smart phone called the Insulidroid. It has all the latest features anyone could want, and more. The Insulidroid becomes a hit. A rage. Consumers are snapping it up right and left. It's the next big thing, and sales are up waaaaaay beyond anyone's wildest projections.
There's no time to build another factory, so management adds a swing shift. Then a graveyard shift. Next it's a weekend crew. Now no holidays for anyone. Supply is barely keeping up with demand. But the assembly line people are getting tried. The equipment needs maintenance. Then it happens.
Or maybe the assembly line breaks down. Either way, what happens in your body is that your poor, overworked pancreas burns out, and the production of Insulidroid phones plummets. Blood sugar soars. You begin to feel like crap. Eventually you go to the doctor and get the bad news. You have diabetes.
By the time you were diagnosed, your pancreas' insulin production was down by at least a third, and could be down to as little as 10% of what it used to be. At the same time, your insulin resistance was growing stronger and stronger.
And going forward in the years following your diagnosis, your insulin production will continue to drop and the resistance will continue to rise. This is what we mean when we say diabetes is a progressive disease. We aren't talking about its politics, we're talking about the fact that it will grow stronger and your body will grow weaker. Your therapy that's working today is just the first step. It will need to evolve as your diabetes grows.
While that sounds grim on the surface, I have good news. No, really, I do. Despite all the bad press diabetes gets, it's actually one of the most harmless diseases on the planet.
How you can you say that! you demand. You've read online how diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure, blindness, and amputations in the country. It's the 7th leading cause of death, for crying out loud! How is that harmless??!
Easy. Diabetes comes in two flavors. Controlled and Uncontrolled.
Uncontrolled diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure, blindness, and amputations in the country. The 7th leading cause of death.
Controlled diabetes is the leading cause of absolutely nothing.
How can that be? Actually, it's pretty simple. Diabetes makes controlling blood sugar a challenge. That's all it does. But high levels of blood sugar are like turning the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse loose inside your body. Damage to the eyes, kidneys, nerves, and to your very heart itself all comes from sugar levels that are too high, not from the diabetes itself. While high levels of sugar are toxic to all living things, diabetes is not. Control the sugar and diabetes is as harmless as a kitten.
So, obviously, you want to join, and keep your membership current in, the Controlled Diabetes Society. How do you do that?
One word: Eternal vigilance. OK. That was two words. Well, eternal vigilance and constant adjustment. You can't rest on your laurels. Your diabetes—its rising insulin resistance and your body's dropping insulin production—creates a moving target. What works today won't work tomorrow. What works tomorrow won't work the day after that.
Don't panic. I was using literary license with that timing. Your timing may vary. It may take months, it may take years, between adjustments. Everyone is different, but everyone can slow this progression, if they choose to, in two ways.
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As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the benefits that made it cost-effective for me to go with the real healthcare (HSA) plan rather than the phony (HRA) plan is that my company is now covering "preventative" medicines at $0 copay. The formulary for these, as stated by CVS/Caremark (my pharmacy benefits provider), covers all test strips, lancets, and control solutions. I dutifully get my doctor to write up prescriptions for all of my testing needs, submit...