Diligence Needed To Avoid Diabetes' Worst

Diabetes can lead to blindness, amputations, and worse, but such complications aren't inevitable.

In Part Two of The Early Show's three-part series on the disease, Dr. David Bloomgarden, an endocrinologist, tells Hannah Storm that, if patients adhere to strict regimens, the dire consequences of diabetes can be avoided.

Bloomgarden, who is on the board of directors of the American Diabetes Association Research Foundation, says he knows inconvenient, but diligence about glucose monitoring, medication, exercise and diet is essential to the long-term health of a person with diabetes.

Dr. Bloomgarden explains that keeping blood sugar at low and stable levels has been shown to prevent the worst consequences of the disease, including blindness and severe damage to organs such as the heart and kidneys, and to the circulatory system.

Testing the blood three-to-five times a day is annoying and can be painful, but is the only reliable way to make sure blood sugar is under control. Bloomgarden stresses, "There is no such thing as a little sugar," meaning that exceeding stated limits even slightly can lead to serious health deterioration.

One thing that has changed for the better in recent years is insulin delivery methods. There is now a 24-hour formulation of insulin that helps patients avoid the highs and lows that come more commonly with insulin that lasts for shorter periods. This is a great improvement in the lives of type 1 diabetics (the kind of diabetes traditionally known as "juvenile"), all of whom need insulin because their bodies have stopped making it.

Type 2 diabetics who take care of themselves well may never get to the point where they need insulin, because their bodies still manufacture it, at least at first. But if they don't lose weight and otherwise watch their diets, they will reach a point where they do start requiring insulin. The 24-hour version of insulin is small consolation to these patients, but they're much better off if they can avoid the need for insulin in the first place.

These patients need to be told, and to understand, that the kinds of foods they eat impact blood sugar levels. They must understand the ins and outs of their special dietary needs, and they must understand the need for exercise. And they must be diligent about taking care of themselves. It can be a burden, but it's necessary, Dr. Bloomgarden emphasized.