November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, offering an opportunity for public education on the disease, while also encouraging those living with diabetes to start taking better care of their feet.
“Knowledge is the most significant way to confront diabetes,” said Dr. Richard Pinsker, an endocrinologist at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center (JHMC). “Although the disease is widespread, there are several thousand Americans who don’t honestly know what diabetes is and even more that are unaware that they may have the disease.”
Nearly 24 million adults and children nationwide have diabetes. According to Natifia Gaines, a spokesperson at JHMC, nearly 700,000 New Yorkers have diabetes, and about 1/3 of them do not know they have it.
In the vicinity of JHMC in Southwest Queens (zip code 11418), including Howard Beach, Kew Gardens, and Ozone Park, 1 in 10 adults have diabetes, according to the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene web site. In Northeast Queens (11361), including Bayside, Little Neck, and Oakland Gardens, about 1 in 20 adults have diabetes.
Pinsker, a supporter of the American Diabetes Association’s (ADA) “Stop Diabetes” campaign, discussed ways to confront the disease, fight it, and fundamentally stop it.
Nutrition and exercise are integral components to fighting diabetes. Patients with the disease are encouraged to read labels on food products, check carbohydrate counts and sugar content, and make this a common routine. Those who cannot control their diabetes through diet and exercise may be prescribed diabetes medications, which depends strongly upon the type of diabetes and any other health condition the individual may have.
“Patients can manage diabetes by creating a meal plan, monitoring their blood sugar levels, staying active and taking medicine,” Pinsker said.
According to the ADA, people with diabetes also often have nerve damage, resulting in foot complications. Known as peripheral neuropathy, this condition reduces one’s ability to feel pain, heat, or cold – making it easier for cuts, blisters, and sores to be disregarded until one experiences numbness or even pain.
“People in general don’t pay attention to their feet,” said Dr. Andrew Rubin, a podiatrist at JHMC. “This is detrimental if you’re diabetic. You may have a wound that you are unaware of, and if left untreated can lead to greater complications.”
Rubin added, “Regular visits to the podiatrist and daily foot inspections are encouraged.” He also said that simple practices such as washing your feet daily, keeping your feet warm and dry, and checking your feet for blisters or cuts is recommended for those with diabetes.
A recent program created by the ADA found that people with pre-diabetes could prevent developing the disease by making simple lifestyle changes.
“Lifestyle choices play a big role in reducing your risk for diabetes and preventing it,” said Pinsker. “It is also important to know the symptoms of diabetes and discuss them with your physician. Early diagnosis of diabetes is the key to stopping it.”
Some risk factors for diabetes include family history of diabetes, low physical activity level, high blood pressure, high body mass index (BMI), age (over 45 years old), and race or ethnic background (African-Americans and Hispanics are at greater risk). Pinsker added that anyone experiencing frequent urination, being very thirsty and hungry, unusual fatigue and/or weight loss, and blurry vision, should contact their physician.
Anyone with questions regarding diabetes can speak with a Jamaica Hospital physician by calling 718-206-7001.