By Doreen Cassarino, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC, BC-ADM, FAANP, FNAP
November is National Diabetes Month, a time to raise awareness of the diabetes epidemic. Diabetes is a disease that occurs when your blood sugar is too high. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 37.3 million people have diabetes and, unfortunately, 8.5 million people are undiagnosed. If you don’t know you have diabetes, you are less likely to have it under control. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to damage to your heart, blood vessels, kidneys, nerves, feet and eyes. The first step is to visit your nurse practitioner (NP) or your provider of choice and be screened for diabetes. NPs are registered nurses with graduate degrees and advanced clinical training, and are well positioned to assess patients, order and interpret diagnostic tests, develop treatment plans and prescribe therapies including medications.
If you have diabetes there are three key steps, the ABCs, that can help you manage your diabetes and reduce your risk for complications that can result from high blood sugar.
A = A1C. The A1C is a blood test that measures your average blood sugar level over the past 3 months. The A1C goal for many people with diabetes is below 7, but the goal is individualized for each person. Ask your NP what your goal should be.
B = Blood pressure. Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of your blood vessels. If your blood pressure gets too high, it makes your heart work too hard and can cause a heart attack, stroke and damage your kidneys and eyes. Your blood pressure goal should be below 140/90 unless your NP recommends a different goal.
C = Cholesterol. There are two kinds of cholesterol in your blood: Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL — or “bad” cholesterol — can build up and clog your blood vessels. HDL — or “good” cholesterol — helps remove the “bad” cholesterol from your blood vessels. Ask your NP about your cholesterol numbers. If your numbers are not where they should be, ask what you can do about it.
Follow these tips to improve or prevent diabetes and reduce complications:
- Be active. Before starting any physical activity plan, you should check first with your NP for any precautions that you should take.
- Make healthy food choices. Eat less salt, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sugar. Eat foods with more fiber, such as whole grain cereals, breads, crackers, rice or pasta; center lean proteins, such as beans, or turkey and chicken without the skin; and fruits, vegetables, and low-fat or skim milk and cheese.
- Drink water instead of juice and regular soda.
- Fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, one quarter with lean protein and another quarter with a whole grain at every meal.
- Stay at a healthy weight. Lose weight if you are overweight. Eat smaller portions, do not go back for seconds, drink more water and talk with your NP about other strategies, such as changes in medications, which might help you reach your goal weight.
- Stop smoking if you smoke. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or visit the CDC’s website for help.
- Make sure to keep regular visits with your NP.
- Take your medicines as prescribed. Tell your NP if you cannot afford your medicine or if you experience any side effects.
- Check your feet every day for sores, cuts, blisters, red spots and swelling, and call your NP right away if you find any.
- Brush your teeth and floss every day to keep your mouth, teeth and gums healthy.
- Ask your NP when and how often to check your blood sugar. Keep track of your blood sugar and keep a record of your numbers to bring with you to your NP visits.
NPs want to be your health care partner, and by working together you can prevent complications resulting from uncontrolled diabetes. To find a NP near you, go to NPFinder.com.