Diabetes: From the Outside Looking In

Kim Pierce, MS, RD, LD, CDCES

In this blog post, guest blogger Kim Pierce, a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist, shares her perspective on the many challenges diabetes patients face on a daily basis. According to the American Diabetes Association, approximately 10.5 percent of Americans suffer from diabetes.

In working with patients, as well as having friends and family members with diabetes, I have seen the struggles they go through that most people don’t always see. Many people know that patients with diabetes need to test their blood sugar levels, take medications, and follow a “diet” that can seem to be ever changing depending on the article you read. However, there are so many more struggles those with diabetes face in managing their blood sugars.

From the patient’s perspective, having diabetes can be very frustrating and overwhelming. Everything they have to do to manage their blood sugar is always in the back of their mind. If I eat this cupcake, how high will my blood sugars go? Is it worth it to take more insulin to consume this cookie? Not to mention that these patients may have other health conditions in addition to their diabetes that can complicate matters even more.

Many times, these patients aren’t just dealing with their own diabetes, they are also caregivers for other family members. This can lead to undue stress and affect their own blood sugar management. I frequently explain to my patients that they need to take care of themselves before they can take care of their loved ones. I am often saying, “you can’t pour from an empty glass.”

Individualized care
As with any disease, diabetes involves individualized care. Management could be as “simple” as taking one pill or incorporating lifestyle changes or as complex as taking multiple injections per day. The more injections, the more that individual has to check their blood sugars. While it can seem simple to say, “just bring all your supplies with you,” it means those supplies are ALWAYS with them: test strips, a glucometer, lancets, pens/syringes, needles, pills, glucose tablets/gels, and glucagon. This requires bringing all the testing supplies and medications (pills or insulin) with them to restaurants, weddings, birthdays, and any other outing. Many people are discreet; you’d never know that they tested their blood sugar and took medication. 

Our lives revolve around food: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. We celebrate and mourn with food. For so many with diabetes, food means testing blood sugars and taking medication. Good blood sugar management relies on lifestyle, testing, and medications.

For those with diabetes who require insulin, it is a life-sustaining medication; yet it comes with exorbitant costs along with the other needed supplies: glucometer, lancets, testing strips, glucagon, glucose tabs, and pen/needles. Technology has been a wonderful addition in terms of insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors (CGMs), but these items are quite expensive. Unfortunately, at times, patients have to decide what medication they will take based on what insurance will cover and also the cost of the specific medication.

Blood sugar highs and lows
Most of the time when I discuss diabetes with my patients, we are trying to avoid the high blood sugars. However, the lows are actually more dangerous than the highs and can be very scary for the individual, family, and friends. There are a variety of symptoms for low blood sugar ranging from extreme hunger and dizziness, all the way up to mental changes, passing out, and the risk of death. Once the patient has had an episode of low blood sugar, they are at risk for having another low in the next 24 hours. This ordeal can be anxiety provoking for all involved. While many times patients with diabetes can figure out what caused the high or low blood sugar, sometimes it is difficult and frustrating to determine the cause.

The good news is we live in a time with amazing medications that greatly help those with diabetes; however, patients still need to have additional support available to them. The Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) certification was recently changed to Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES). This change was made because CDCESs do so much more than just educate; they also provide the care and support that patients with diabetes need. For those struggling with managing their diabetes and wanting to avoid the negative side effects, reaching out to a CDCES will help to provide the support you need!

Kim Pierce, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES, is a Registered Dietitian and CDCES working in northeast Ohio and western Pennsylvania. She provides virtual coaching for individuals with diabetes through her web site www.outdoorsdietitian.com.

Thank you, Kim, for sharing your insightful and empathetic perspective about diabetes with our readers.

If you have a story to share about participating in a clinical trial, overcoming adversity, or living with a chronic condition, please let us know. We’d love to have you guest blog for us. Guest blogging helps others learn about your struggles and increases awareness and understanding. We will help promote your website and social media accounts as well as your favorite advocacy group. Contact us to get started sharing your story now!

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