Diabetes Awareness Month

Know your risk, change your future

At 60, Toronto resident Brent Galardo felt reasonably healthy for his age, even though he was overweight, inactive and ate an unhealthy diet – some of the risk factors for type 2 diabetes. He also couldn’t seem to quench his thirst (a symptom of the disease) and sometimes felt dizzy and a bit shaky. “I’d drink a can of pop or eat a candy and feel okay,” he says. “So I thought I had it under control.”

During treatment for a clot in his leg, his doctor did a blood test and immediately administered an insulin injection. As dangerous as it was, the clot may have saved his life – Mr. Galardo later understood he had been experiencing symptoms of diabetes for as long as five years. Untreated, the disease put him at risk of heart disease, kidney failure, blindness and other life-threatening complications.

“I was well on my way to a coma, there’s no question about it,” he says.
Since his diagnosis about three years ago, he and his wife have changed their lifestyle dramatically. “We had to re-educate ourselves. I feel like I am 21 again, and I’ve got energy galore. I’m just trying to eat the right things and get out and exercise.”

Like Mr. Galardo prior to his diagnosis, about 30 per cent of people with type 2 diabetes – an estimated 1.5 million Canadians – don’t know they have it, says Dr. Jay Silverberg, an endocrinologist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA) board member.

“The disease can wreak havoc with their health without them really being aware of what’s going on,” he says. “If we had the ability to wipe diabetes off the map – to eliminate this disease – we could prevent 30 per cent of strokes and 40 per cent of heart attacks.”

Shelley Jones, a diabetes educator in Moncton, New Brunswick, supports people who live with diabetes in meeting the challenges of managing their disease. “I try to help them think outside the box, to be more active and make healthy food choices. For people on limited budgets, fresh vegetables are expensive in the winter, but frozen is a great option. It’s about having conversations to figure out what will work for them.”

She explains that insulin enables our cells to take in glucose (sugar) to make energy, but when those cells become resistant to insulin, high levels of sugar circulate in the bloodstream, and the pancreas cells that make insulin have to work harder and wear out over time. This is due in part to a combination of: genetics – family history and being a member of at-risk groups such as Aboriginals, South Asians, Asians and Afro-Caribbeans; the environment in which we live, including access to healthy foods and a budget with which to buy them; as well as lifestyle habits such as a poor diet and a lack of exercise.

“If we are not paying attention to our lifestyle, we go down that road faster,” says Ms. Jones. “So it’s very important that we support our patients to manage their disease and connect them with the right health-care providers, including diabetes educators, who understand the challenges and can help them live as well as possible.”

The first step is finding out if we are at risk, says Rick Blickstead, president and CEO of the Canadian Diabetes Association. “Knowing your personal risk factors can help prevent or delay the development of type 2 diabetes. That’s why early diagnosis and awareness can make all the difference. Today, one in three Canadians has diabetes or prediabetes, so it’s critical Canadians find out their risk so they can take action.

“I would like everyone to go to diabetestest.ca and take the CANRISK test, so you can understand whether you are at risk, and to share it with your family, friends and colleagues,” urges Mr. Blickstead. “Once you’ve done that, I encourage you to take on a healthy habit for 21 days. Sign up for our 21 Day Challenge to End Diabetes (21DaysforDiabetes.ca) to improve your lifestyle and help us improve the health of Canadians with diabetes or at risk of diabetes.”

 Are you at risk?

If you are over the age of 40, the
Canadian Diabetes Association
(CDA) recommends you get
checked every three years, and
more frequently if you have any
of these risk factors:
A parent or sibling with diabetes
Are a member of an ethnic group at high risk for type 2 diabetes (African, Hispanic, Asian, South Asian and Aboriginal)
Are overweight
Have high blood pressure or high cholesterol
Have been diagnosed with prediabetes
Have polycystic ovary syndrome
Don’t ignore the risk factors. Find out if you are at risk.
Visit diabetestest.ca