November is Diabetes Awareness Month. Many patient programs are centered on food and medication restrictions. New treatments and a better understanding of this condition have led to increased sports participation.
Approximately 29.1 million people in the United States (~9 per cent of the population) have been diagnosed with diabetes. This represents a rising health problem with significant impact on health care costs.
Diabetes is divided into three types:
• Type 1 or insulin-dependent diabetes is the result of an inability of the pancreas to produce a sufficient amount of insulin. Insulin is a hormone responsible for taking sugar from the bloodsteam and allowing it to enter a cell where it is used for energy.
• Type 2 or non-insulin dependent diabetes is typically due to a resistance of cells to respond to the insulin available.
• Prediabetes or Impaired Glucose Tolerance is a reversible condition where blood sugars are elevated but not to a sufficient level to define the person as diabetic.
The goal of diabetic treatment is to keep the blood sugar at a constant, acceptable level. Establishing this state of euglycemia is much more difficult in a diabetic.
Diet, exercise and medication are the basic approaches to treatment. Increased activity will burn more sugar and therefore lower the insulin demand.
The use of programmable insulin pumps has allowed many athletes to participate at the highest levels of competition. The pump can sense the blood sugar level and release an appropriate amount of insulin.
“I advise patients to just move,” states Dr. Nathan Lassman, Chief of Endocrinology at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center. “Any activity that a patient enjoys and can perform regularly is a big plus in treating diabetes.”
Diabetes should not be a disabling condition for aspiring athletes.
Dr. Alessi is a neurologist in Norwich and serves as an on-air contributor for ESPN. He is director of UConn NeuroSport and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org