It is a disease with symptoms that often begin so mildly that it can go unnoticed for years.
Left untreated and unchecked, diabetes can ravage the body, and complications from the disease can lead to a wide array of health problems, including amputations, stroke, heart disease, and ultimately death.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, those suffering from diabetes may be weighing the choice to delay routine check-ups or foregoing other methods of keeping the disease in check. However, those decisions can have significant consequences on both overall health and quality of life, said Mary Jane Lopez, Registered Nurse and Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville Diabetes Program Coordinator/Educator.
Since 2012, the Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville Diabetes Center has worked to educate a community that has been identified by researchers as having an increased risk of being diagnosed with diabetes. Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen also offers services via its Diabetes Center which is certified by the American Diabetes Association and has been serving the community since 1980.
“There is a high prevalence of diabetes here in the Rio Grande Valley, and an alarming incidence of prediabetes with individuals who don’t even know that they are at risk,” said Lopez said. “However, with proper education, we help individuals learn how to self-manage their diabetes and teach them how to modify their lifestyle to include healthier habits to reduce long-term complications of diabetes.”
According to the Texas A&M School of Public Health, the lower Rio Grande Valley, which includes Brownsville, has a type 2 diabetes prevalence of 30.7 percent among adults, compared with 9.3 percent nationwide. Because of that increased prevalence and the negative impact of uncontrolled diabetes, Lopez said the Valley Baptist-Brownsville Diabetes Center serves an extremely vital role in the health of local residents.
As part of the program, which has been certified by the American Diabetes Association since 2014, patients have the opportunity to receive diabetes self-management education for type 1, type 2, and/or gestational diabetes in individual, personalized sessions.Patients will receive up to four sessions, with one session including one-on-one time with a registered dietitian.
The information is offered in both English and Spanish. From learning simple facts and myths about diabetes to learning how to check blood sugar levels and administer medication, patients receive comprehensive education that they can use to manage their disease and improve their quality of life, Lopez said.
While education is critical to successfully managing diabetes, there are lifestyle changes that can be made to prevent the onset of the disease in the first place.
Prediabetes is a warning sign that blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not quite high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes.
Approximately 88 million American adults – 1 in 3 – have prediabetes. More than 84 percent of prediabetics don’t even know they have it. It’s a serious health condition with increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Ways to prevent prediabetes include:
- Eat healthy. Choose foods low in sugar, fat, and calories and high in fiber. Eat fewer refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, white rice and pasta. Instead, focus on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Stay active with five brisk 30-minute walks or two cardio-intensive exercise classes each week.
- Weight Loss, if you are overweight. Give yourself a goal of 5 to 7 percent of your body weight (that’s just 10 to 14 pounds for a 200-pound person). Once you’ve reached your goal, maintain, and enjoy the health benefits.
- Stop smoking. Prediabetes is just one of the numerous health risks of smoking.
- Take medications as needed. If you are at high risk, your doctor can recommend medications that can help control cholesterol and high blood pressure.
For more information on Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville’s Diabetes Center, call (956) 698-5602. For information on Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen’s program, call (956) 389-1119.