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The national observance of Diabetes Awareness Month is underway. It is an education campaign that draws attention to a dangerous health condition that affects 122 million Americans today. This year, it shares the stage with another massive crisis, COVID-19, which presents increased danger to diabetics.

Kenner Army Health Clinic strives daily to educate community members about diabetes. During the November observance, the apex of which is National Diabetes Day on Nov. 14, the facility and its partner organization, the Army Wellness Center, will share info through social media and other venues to encourage conversation about the topic and proactive steps to prevent the disease.

There are a lot of misconceptions about diabetes, so let’s first define what it is and who is at greatest risk.

Diabetes is a chronic health condition that affects how the body turns food into energy. Most of what we eat is broken down into sugar (also called glucose) that is released into the bloodstream. When blood sugar goes up, it signals the pancreas to release insulin, which acts like a key to let the blood sugar into the body’s cells for use as energy.

If an individual develops diabetes, his or her body either doesn’t make enough insulin or loses the ability to put it to optimal use. When there isn’t enough insulin or cells stop responding to it, too much blood sugar stays in the bloodstream. Over time, higher levels can cause serious health problems, such as heart diseasevision loss and kidney disease.

Individuals can take steps to reduce the onset of diabetes such as eating healthier and exercising. However, there are some factors like age, family history and gender that can’t be controlled and always up the risk ante, so those individuals need to be particularly vigilant in watching for warning signs and getting tested if they have a concern.

Warning signs of possible diabetes include the following:

  • Urinating a lot; often at night
  • Always thirsty
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Continuously hungry
  • Blurry vision
  • Numb or tingling hands or feet
  • Feel very tired
  • Have very dry skin
  • Sores that heal slowly
  • More infections than usual

When any combination of these are reported, a care provider will likely set up an appointment for lab testing to check blood sugar levels. This can help the provider team recommend treatment plans or changes to an individual’s health routine.

Now, let’s discuss the impact of COVID-19. The American Diabetes Association suggests people with diabetes may face “worse outcomes, not a greater chance of contracting the virus.” As with many serious health issues, diabetes is a disease that places individuals at greater risk for complications. The ADA generally believes that the more health conditions someone has (example, diabetes and heart disease), the higher their chance of serious complications from COVID-19. More information and frequently asked questions on this topic can be found at www.diabetes.org/covid-19-faq.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following actions during this pandemic to keep diabetes under control:

  • Continue taking diabetes pills and insulin if prescribed.
  • Test blood sugar and keep track of results, as directed by a healthcare provider.
  • Have at least a 30-day supply of diabetes medicines, including insulin, in light of possible supply chain interruptions, stay-at-home requirements or going through a quarantine period.
  • Follow the healthcare provider’s instructions if feeling ill as well as the sick day tips for people with diabetes found on the CDC site under managing sick days.
  • Call your healthcare provider if you feel sick or have concerns about your condition.
  • Most importantly, get your flu shot.

Hopefully, this column cleared up some of the misunderstandings about diabetes. People need to know that it can affect all ages and is not limited to those who are obese. Pre-diabetes is most common, accounting for nearly three-quarters of the number cited in the first paragraph.

The Disease Management team at Kenner encourages individuals to discuss this topic with their health care provider. Take charge of your well-being, including lifestyle changes that lower the risk for health complications like diabetes. Start with small achievable accomplishments and incorporate them into a routine. A great example is doing more cooking at home to control the amount of fats, oils and calories in meals. Taking a 20-minute walk at lunchtime is another step down the road of a healthier lifestyle.

Keep in mind that healthy living classes, fitness coaching, body fat testing and more all can be found at the Army Wellness Center. Their services are available to all DOD ID cardholders. To make an appointment for a consultation, call 804-734-9925. Kenner beneficiaries who would like to address concerns with a health care provider can call 866-533-5242 for an appointment.