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Doctor, I’ve Got Diabetes. So, What’s Next?

Written by Dr. Kevin Tan

“I’ve been feeling out of sorts lately…. unusually tired, going to the toilet often to pass urine … but the weather has been hot lately and I have been drinking more water to keep hydrated ! This has been going on for some months now, but the final straw was when just the other day, my friend commented that I had lost a lot of weight! I decided to go to my GP. He did a blood test for me and said that my blood sugar was 14 mmol/L and that I had diabetes! I shouldn’t be surprised really, as my father and his father had diabetes…. but that was when they were in their 60s and 70s …”

Sounds familiar?

But actually, that’s the common presentation for Type 2 diabetes, which is the most common type of diabetes in the world. You’re predisposed to Type 2 diabetes if it runs in the family (especially parents and siblings), as you get older and if, in women, you had big babies in previous pregnancies or diabetes in pregnancy (gestational diabetes). You can get diabetes at an earlier age if your lifestyle is unhealthy and you are overweight. Most of the time there may not be any warning symptoms and therein lies the danger – diabetes may be there, without you knowing, for a number of years and causing damage to tissues and organs in your body without you realizing it. You only find out when you have a general blood test and incidentally discover that your blood sugar is high! Diabetes, like hypertension (high blood pressure) and dyslipidemia (high cholesterol), is a chronic (life-long) condition. While hopeful for a cure, this remains elusive at present, but good control is possible; in order to lead a long and healthy life free from complications. Living with diabetes is difficult as it requires changes in eating habits, food choices, lifestyle and effort to lose weight if overweight. But living with diabetes needn’t be a death sentence and it is much better to live with diabetes than to suffer from its long-term complications that come with poor blood sugar control.

So what do you do next, after learning that you have diabetes?

Be informed

‘Knowledge is power’; ‘Know your enemy’. Familiar phrases that remind you not to be ignorant of your condition. Learn as much as you can to defeat your ‘enemy’ – diabetes. But glean accurate and reliable information. Your doctor is a good source. Go to reliable websites – those of hospitals and professional organizations – Diabetes Singapore, American Diabetes Association, Diabetes UK to name a few. For food choices, see a registered nutritionist or dietitian. It is worth the money and time spent to have a good foundation of food knowledge and to know what you should eat and what not to eat, rather than base it on hearsay and others’ opinions, however well-meaning!

Be resourceful

One of the greatest developments in the 21st century has been mobile application software or apps. There are diabetes apps that help you count calories and the carbohydrate content of foods, track your calorie intake and expenditure, your physical activity, your blood glucose record and trends.

Join your national diabetes organization (Diabetes Singapore) as a member. Contact and learn from others living successfully with diabetes through a physical support group or a virtual chat group as part of responsible organization.

Be active and make positive lifestyle changes

‘Old habits may die hard’ but lifestyle changes are essential in diabetes management. There must be motivation to change for the better. This may be for yourself – to live long and healthy, or for your loved ones – to continue to enjoy living healthily with them. Eat more healthily, make correct food choices, exercise more regularly, keep physically active, lose weight and know your target weight and ideal body weight.

Be positive and stay calm

The tendency is to feel demoralized and depressed when faced with a chronic medical condition like diabetes. DON’T! Staying in denial or dejection is the last thing we ought to do. Get over the initial disappointment. Learn how to deal with diabetes. Talk to people who are living positively with the condition through Diabetes Singapore. Research has shown a correlation between emotional and psychological health and physical health. Keeping one’s spirits up can actually help the body continue to function well.

Be disciplined

Be disciplined to the lifestyle changes that you have made. Evolve them into healthy habits. Be disciplined to adhere to exercise schedules. Don’t neglect your visits to the doctor, podiatrists and nurse educators. Self-monitor your blood glucose and correlate the readings with meals and exercise and medication. Share feedback with the doctor about your achievements, fears, and concerns. Committed family and friends can also help provide a support system, to help you in enforcing accountability.

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This article is contributed by Diabetes Singapore. For more information on Diabetes Singapore, please visit www.diabetes.org.sg.