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Diabetes – How Do You Know If You Have It?
By Lois Thomson

Susan Zikos"Some of the people I see come in here and they are totally befuddled, they say they had no idea they had diabetes." But Susan Zikos, the new outpatient dietitian, certified diabetes educator, and program director for the Diabetes Self-Management Education Program for Ohio Valley Hospital, is equally befuddled that they don't know. "There are symptoms of high blood sugar levels, and if the person understands them, they could be forewarned; but many people don't even think about it."

Some of the symptoms include dry mouth and blurred vision, but the irony is that some of those are first discovered by an ophthalmologist or a dentist. As Zikos explained, "A lot of times an ophthalmologist diagnoses diabetes. The person thinks they need new glasses because their vision has become bad, so they go to the optometrist; but it's diabetic changes in the eye that are causing the blurry vision. Dentists, too, will catch the problem because people are very thirsty and they're drinking a lot, yet they have dry mouth. So they go to their dentist and the dentist says, 'Your mouth shouldn't be that dry. You should go to your doctor.'"

Other symptoms are frequent urination, fatigue, or an infection that doesn't heal. But does that mean you have diabetes – or something else? That's why Zikos recommends, "You really have to go to your doctor and get a physical to find out. Because if you're tired, is it because you did not get enough sleep, or is your blood sugar level at 250?"



Susan Zikos, the new outpatient dietitian and certified diabetes educator for Ohio Valley Hospital, recommends a healthy lifestyle to try to lessen the complications of diabetes. She endorses a good, healthy diet that doesn't have too many calories or too many concentrated sweets, one that is high in fruits and vegetables, contains more whole grains and more fiber, and low-fat dairy and low-fat meats. "I feel strongly that a healthier, more nutrient-filled lifestyle will not just help diabetics, but it will also help all of us have a healthier life. A diet (like this) can be used by anyone who wants a healthier lifestyle."





While 21 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes, Zikos said that according to the American Diabetes Association, 8.1 million people are diabetic but are undiagnosed. And the average length of time before somebody gets diagnosed is 10 years.

Complications can develop during that time and Zikos said they can run literally from head to toe. She explained that the small blood vessels of the retina can become damaged, and the fluid leaks into the back of the eyes and can cause vision loss or blindness. Uncontrolled glucose levels in the blood can affect the nervous system, blood pressure and digestion. "The skin can become damaged and that's when cuts don't heal. The Wound Care Center at Ohio Valley® treats a lot of diabetics who have wounds that just didn't heal. And the kidneys – the small blood vessels can become damaged and protein leaks out into the urine and the blood can't filter normally, and that's what causes kidney failure. Cardiovascular disease and stroke is more common."

Diabetes may be the result of genetic traits – either through family history or because of a predisposition (for example, 7.6 percent of non-Hispanic whites have diabetes, compared with 12.8 percent of Hispanics, and 15.9 percent of American Indians), but Zikos said your lifestyle might also encourage diabetes to develop. "Are you exercising, are you eating right? If you're sedentary and obese, you're much more likely to develop diabetes whether or not you have a predisposition to it."

She went on to say, "That's why people really need to go to their doctors and pay attention to signs of diabetes – or any other medical condition – because if you can treat it early, you have a much better chance of lessening the chance of complications. It is possible to delay or even prevent Type 2 diabetes by exercising, losing weight, going to your doctor, and having the condition attended to."

The ADA has projected that 40 percent of the population will have diabetes by 2050, assuming that people continue their current lifestyles. "I studied to become a certified diabetes educator to help people live healthier lives and lessen the complications of diabetes," Zikos said, "and that's why I want to get the word out about making good choices."

For more information, call 412-777-6205 or visit www.ohiovalleyhospital.org

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