Dr. Chelsea Gordner, an adult and pediatric endocrinologist at Baystate Health, appeared on last night's Medical Rounds - a collaboration between Baystate Health and Western Mass News. The weekly Medical Rounds is broadcast in the 5:30 p.m. portion of the Tuesday night news and focuses on family health and wellness and breakthrough technologies. Each session is followed by an interactive live chat. Last night's discussion focused on diabetes and the CDC's recent report that an alarming number of Americans have prediabetes.
Q: Is this news about so many people having high blood sugar levels disturbing to you as a doctor?
A: Yes, it’s very concerning. Already some 30 million adults and children have diabetes, and a quarter of them are undiagnosed. Another 86 million – the group of people the CDC is referring to – have what we call prediabetes. They’re at risk for developing type 2 diabetes because their body isn’t making enough insulin or it doesn’t use it well. We once called type 2 diabetes “adult onset diabetes,” but what is very disturbing is that type 2 diabetes now affects kids and teens as well, mainly because of obesity.
Q: What are some warning signs people should be aware of?
A: The most common signs to be aware of are excessive thirst, a dry mouth, and having to urinate frequently. Other symptoms to watch out for include cuts and bruises that heal slowly, feeling tired all of the time, and blurry vision.
Q: Some people refer to diabetes as an “epidemic” in this country. What’s driving this epidemic and can we ever hope to get it under control?
A: It’s a worldwide epidemic that goes hand-in-hand with the epidemic of obesity. Those with type 1 diabetes are born with the disease. Others with type 2 diabetes get it as a result of poor lifestyle choices. The good news is that you can prevent prediabetes from developing into type 2 diabetes with lifestyle changes such as eating healthy foods, keeping physically active and exercising at least 30 minutes a day, and losing weight. Also, your doctor might put you on a drug called metformin if you are at high risk.
Q: Why is early detection important and what tests exist for diagnosing diabetes?
A: Simple blood tests to determine your sugar levels can be ordered by your doctor. It’s important to diagnose diabetes in its earliest stages because if left uncontrolled, diabetes can result in serious health complications involving the kidneys, nerves, feet and eyes leading to blindness. Diabetes also puts you at high risk for heart disease, and due to poor blood circulation, some patients may end up having a foot or leg amputated.
Q: Have treatments changed for diabetes today? And can we ever expect a cure?
A: Controlling blood sugars through diet, exercise, oral medications or insulin is the main treatment today. There is also hope for some patients with type 2 diabetes to actually come off of their medications if they lose weight and have their blood sugars under control. As for a cure, right now there is none for type 1 or type 2 diabetes. With that said, researchers have had some promising results with stem cell treatment that is currently in the clinical trial stages and that someday may serve as a cure. As for type 2 diabetes, studies have shown that obese patients undergoing weight loss surgery have shown improvement in their diabetes control with some experiencing a remission of the disease.