When you look at Harvey Roth of Ashland, you see a fit, ruddy-faced fellow about 80 years old with a grin that never quits, and a brash Brooklyn attitude. You'd never know that Harvey's been a Type 2 diabetic for the last 40 years, successfully managing his diabetes with diet, exercise and a couple of oral medications.
Diabetes is not a disease where you take a pill and it goes away," explains Sue Amidon, diabetes educator with the Institute of Diabetes and Endocrinology in Medford. "It is a multifaceted disease where the patient must: follow a healthy diet, exercise, take their medications, [and] check their blood sugars. It's not an easy process."
Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle are two big behavioral risk factors for type 2 diabetes for adults and children.
"We are now teaching our children to do things with their brain and their fingers, and not their body," warns Sue Amidon, diabetes educator with the Institute of Diabetes and Endocrinology in Medford. "So they are exercising their mind with video games, computer games, with computer work, and they're not out there exercising their bodies."
According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes often goes undiagnosed because many of its symptoms seem so harmless. Recent studies indicate that the early detection of diabetes symptoms and treatment can decrease the chance of developing the complications of diabetes.
Some diabetes symptoms include:
* Frequent urination
* Excessive thirst
* Extreme hunger
* Unusual weight loss
* Increased fatigue
* Blurry vision
If you or your child has one or more of these diabetes symptoms, see your doctor right away. Also take the ADA Diabetes Risk Test at www.diabetes.org/risk-test.
Diabetes mellitus is a chronic disease that occurs in two forms: Type 1, where the pancreas doesn't produce insulin and Type 2, where the body can't process the insulin that the pancreas produces. High blood sugar is a sign that the body's insulin isn't converting sugar into energy. "Without insulin, you will die," says Amidon.
"It's insidious. It really affects everything in your body," Harvey says, in his New York accent. "You can't feel it (diabetes). There's no pain, there's nothing that warns you that something's wrong like a heart attack, or a bad hip."
Harvey was in the prime of his life at the time of his diagnosis — not overweight and he exercised often — but there was a history of Type 2 diabetes in his family. When his annual checkup revealed high blood sugar, Harvey knew exactly what he might be in for: a lifetime of insulin dependence, with an increasing likelihood of kidney failure, blindness, stroke, heart disease and possibly amputations.
"I said to my doctor, just tell me what I need to do and I'll beat it," Harvey remembers. "I didn't want to be on insulin, so whatever they wanted me to do, I'd do it." And right then, Harvey made up his mind. "You have do something deliberately to make a change," he says. "To watch what you eat, to exercise, to lose weight."
Diet is key according to Allison Henrie, diabetes educator at Providence Hospital. "Protein and fats won't increase the blood sugar, it's the carbohydrates," she says. Another key to the body's ability to process insulin, according to Henrie, is exercise. "Keep moving — it doesn't have to be high impact," she says. "Even 15 to 20 minutes of a brisk walk after eating is very important."
Dr. Alan Kelly, on staff at the Institute of Diabetes and Endocrinology says that new medicines and technologies can help make life easier for diabetics, such as oral medications with fewer side effects, insulin pumps with an integrated blood sugar sensor, recombinant DNA insulin that doesn't cause an allergic reaction, and insulin pens with tiny injection needles that you can hardly feel.
The patient's own understanding of the disease is the most important part of controlling diabetes. "Our goal is "¦ good preventive care, to do what we call tight management of diabetes," explains Dr. Kelly. "So if you come in with a blood sugar that's very high, if I can address it and treat your diabetes, and get your blood sugar down into a normal range, then I can hopefully prevent all those long-term complications, certainly delay them."
After years of exercise and a healthy, diabetes-aware diet, Harvey, the social eater, still craves bread, but avoids eating it. It's been worth it, because Harvey has kept his blood sugar within reasonable levels for more than 40 years, avoided taking insulin, and prevented the long-term complications of advanced diabetes.
Even after all these years, Harvey is still learning and adjusting his behavior to stay healthy. But he is proof that there is life after the diagnosis and that living with diabetes, and living well, is possible.