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How to Control Diabetes

In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that more than 100 million adults in the United States are living with diabetes or prediabetes. More than 30 million Americans – or approximately 10 percent of the population – have diabetes. In 2015, diabetes was the leading cause of death in the U.S.

Among adults, diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure, non-traumatic lower-limb amputations and new cases of blindness. Other complications include obesity, heart disease, heart attack, stroke, nervous system disease, vascular disease, high blood pressure, depression and reduced muscle strength and physical function.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition in which the body either does not produce enough of, or properly use, the hormone insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that allows glucose (sugar) to enter cells and provide the necessary energy for daily activities. In Type 1 diabetes, which develops most often in children or adolescents, the pancreas no longer makes insulin and therefore blood glucose cannot enter the cells to be used for energy. In Type 2 diabetes, which can develop at any age, the cells become resistant to insulin and the pancreas does not make enough insulin to override the resistance, and/or the body is unable to use insulin correctly.

What are the Symptoms?

Diabetes often goes undiagnosed because many of its symptoms seem so harmless, and often those with Type 2 diabetes do not have any symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms of diabetes:

Frequent urination

Unusual thirst

Extreme hunger

Unusual weight loss

Extreme fatigue and irritability

High blood pressure

Frequent infections

Blurred vision

Cuts/bruises that are slow to heal

Tingling/numbness in the hands/feet

Recurring skin, gum or bladder infections


Tingling, burning or numbness in the feet and/or hands

Joint pain

Can Diabetes be Controlled?

Type 1 diabetes can be controlled through lifestyle changes and medication, but it cannot be prevented because science has yet to determine its cause(s). Type 2 diabetes can often be prevented and controlled by keeping one’s weight at a normal level in relation to one’s height, avoiding obesity by eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly.

Risk factors you can control:

Being overweight, defined as a body mass index greater than 25

Sedentary lifestyle

Abnormal cholesterol and blood fats, such as HDL “good” cholesterol lower than 35 mg/dL or a triglyceride level greater than 200 mg/dL

High blood pressure greater than 140/90 in adults


Risk factors you cannot control:

Race or ethnicity: Hispanics, African Americans, Native Americans and Asians have a higher-than-average risk of developing diabetes

Family (parent or sibling) history of diabetes

Age: Being 45 and older increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Treating Diabetes

Treatment for diabetes usually includes diet, exercise and medication if sugar levels remain high after lifestyle adjustments. At rehabilitation hospitals, diabetic patients often are provided a medically supervised care plan that includes healthy eating strategies and physical exercise.

A healthy diet is integral to managing diabetes. How much and what types of foods are eaten affect the balance of insulin in the body and make a difference in blood glucose levels. Dietitians at rehabilitation hospitals can teach patients about carbohydrates in food, how it affects the glucose levels, and they provide practical strategies for healthy cooking and eating.

Exercise helps control diabetes because it allows glucose to enter the cells without the use of insulin. It also can help lower blood glucose levels and blood pressure. A combination of both aerobic exercise and resistance training has the most positive effect on blood glucose levels.

Diabetes is a serious condition and each person needs unique care. Learn as much as possible about the latest medical therapies and approaches, as well as healthy lifestyle choices. Good communication with a team of experts can help you feel in control and respond to changing needs. FBN

By Abdul Baco, CDE, RDN, PhD 

The Rehabilitation Hospital of Northern Arizona, located on McMillian Mesa, is the only rehabilitation hospital in the region, serving all of Northern Arizona. The 40-bed facility provides intensive rehabilitation services to people recovering from disabling diseases or injuries, such as strokes, brain, spinal cord and orthopedic injuries. For more information, visit rhna.ernesthealth.com or call 928-774-7070. Follow us on Facebook at Rehabilitation Hospital of Northern Arizona. 

Abdul Baco, PhD., is a certified diabetes educator and registered dietitian nutritionist at The Rehabilitation Hospital of Northern Arizona.

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