Mayo Clinic Minute: Type 2 diabetes – What you need to know
How I Manage Type 2 Diabetes With Another Chronic Condition: Zoe’s Story
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Managing type 2 diabetes can feel like a full-time job. Add another chronic condition to the load, and the juggling of office visits, medical records, and labs and tests — not to mention dealing with day-to-day symptoms — can become overwhelming. For Zoe Miller, keeping up with her type 2 diabetes and chronic arthritis meant treating her healthcare like the important job that it was. “I keep a log of everything,” says the 72-year-old Smithville, New Jersey, resident. “I keep a running tab of all my surgeries, dates, medications, dosages — everything in one place — and keep an updated copy of it with me at all times.”
But managing both conditions, among other ailments, has not always been easy. “It can be a lot to keep up with, especially when you’re taking so many medications, dealing with so many symptoms,” Miller says. Endocrinologist Athena Philis-Tsimikas, MD, a corporate vice president for the Scripps Whittier Diabetes Institute, says that this feeling of being overwhelmed is not uncommon. In fact, it’s so prevalent among people with type 2 diabetes that the American Diabetes Association has labeled it diabetes distress.
“As doctors, we listen closely to our patients, and if we hear things like ‘I’m stressed out by all of this’ or ‘I don’t have time to deal with my diagnosis,’ we know we need to take action,” Dr. Philis-Tsimikas says. This often means having the patient evaluated by a trained psychologist or trained social worker. “Integrating this into a primary care environment is the optimal care approach,” says Philis-Tsimikas. “If someone is dealing with distress and anxiety regarding their diagnosis and treatment plan, you need to treat that first before treating the other conditions.”
Tips for Managing More Than One Health Condition
While managing diabetes with other conditions can require a lot of work, there are steps you can take to make it easier. Here’s how Miller eases the stress that can come with living with several health conditions.
Get educated.One of the easiest ways to overcome diabetes distress, says Philis-Tsimikas, which can often be brought on by juggling various other health conditions, is to become as educated as possible. “So few people take advantage of the education that is available to them,” she says. For example, according to the 2019 National Standards for Diabetes Self-Management Education and Support, published in August 2019 inDiabetes Care, less than 5 percent of people on Medicare attend the diabetes education courses offered by their healthcare providers. Miller was among that 5 percent — she enrolled in a diabetes education course after her diagnosis over 10 years ago. “It was so informative and really helped me understand my blood sugar,” she says. The classes often address the basics, such as testing your blood sugar and reading the results, but they also explain how to manage other chronic conditions and break down the symptoms so you know what each can be attributed to.
Build your team. Miller’s approach to staying organized by keeping an updated health-history log on hand is one of the easiest ways to alleviate diabetes distress, says Philis-Tsimikas, who also recommends streamlining your doctors. “It’s very nice to be able to refer patients to other doctors in the same healthcare system,” she says, “because it means all your information is in one easy-to-access place for your medical team.” If that’s not possible, consider doing what Miller does by creating a health-history log, or keeping track of everything in a healthcare binder. “I bring an updated copy of my log with me to every doctor’s appointment,” says Miller, “whether it’s for diabetes or not, and give it to my doctor or nurse to keep on file.”
Get moving and eat healthy. Though Miller’s severe arthritis has prevented her from exercising as much as she would like, one of the biggest changes she has made to help control diabetes is to lose weight. In the last year she’s dropped nearly 40 pounds by simply curbing her portions. The same healthy habits that can help you manage diabetes can help you manage other conditions as well.
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