Living with diabetes

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There may not be a cure for diabetes, but nurses with the Primary Care Network can help those diagnosed manage the disease and avoid life-threatening complications.

As part of diabetes awareness month, the Gazette sat down with two PCN nurses to better understand the disease and why it’s so important to take control of your lifestyle upon being diagnosed.

Diabetes is growing in Alberta. According to a report from the Canadian Diabetes Association called the Tipping Point: Diabetes in Alberta, the diabetic population in Alberta was predicted to increase by 67 per cent from 2010 to 2020 to an estimated 363,000 individuals.

Carrie Coles, a registered nurse who works for the PCN and St. Albert Medical Clinic, blames the growing number of cases on our busy and convenient lifestyle: driving instead of walking, ordering fast-food instead of preparing a home-cooked meal.

“People are faster and busier and we find sometimes it’s more effort to eat healthy so we tend to rely on the convenience of prepackaged foods and eating out,” she said.

“If we don’t want to make dinner and go to the grocery store and buy vegetables and lean meat and chop them up and cook them, it’s easy to just go to the freezer and pull out a pizza, or go out to eat.”

This mentality, if maintained, is especially dangerous once an individual has been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

That’s where she and her colleague Olya Goultiaeva from the Associated Medical Clinic come in. Both are registered nurses who help patients with diabetes make healthy changes to their lifestyle, such as reducing the amount of sugary and fatty foods they consume and exercising more.

By helping patients manage their diabetes both nurses hope their patients will avoid the unpleasant, and eventually deadly complications associated with the disease.

Not only can the excess of sugar in the bloodstream caused by diabetes lead to fatigue, blindness, kidney failure, foot ulcers and erectile dysfunction, because the thickened blood has a hard time passing through the smallest blood vessels, but it can also lead to cardiovascular problems and strokes.

Sugar molecules are sharp like shards of glass, explained Coles. When they get hung up they create little divots in the vessel where fat molecules can get caught and accumulate, forming a blood clot.

The biggest factor in managing diabetes is motivation said both nurses.

As part of the PCN team they can refer patients to a mental health specialist who will help patients break down any mental barriers to adjusting their lifestyle.

Goultiaeva said the PCN abides by an open-door policy. After the first few meetings and follow-ups newly diagnosed patients may feel that they have all the information they need. But if they ever fall off the wagon, they are more than welcome to come in for a refresher.

“Chronic disease management is not consistent from a person’s internal self-control. When there are life changes, like family events, work is stressful, or money is an issue, that all impacts their management of their condition because time is limited, finances are limited,” she said.

Goultiaeva will troubleshoot with the patient and get them back on track.

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Michelle Ferguson