Diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic lower respiratory diseases, and unintentional injuries. Today an estimated 23.6 million people are currently living with diabetes, and of those, the American Diabetes Association estimates that 5.7 million Americans are unaware that they have the disease.

These statistics raise the question of what state legislators can do to educate their constituents on how to recognize the symptoms of diabetes and, once diagnosed, how to manage and prevent complications caused by diabetes. State legislators can play a vital role in supporting healthcare initiatives that require insurers to cover testing supplies; yearly eye, foot, and dental exams; visits to dietitians; and regular A1C testing (a blood test that measures blood sugar control over a three-month period). In addition, state legislators can educate providers about treatment standards tailored to individual patients.

Diabetes symptoms can often be difficult to detect. Many patients go undiagnosed simply because the symptoms they experience don’t seem serious at the time. Some symptoms to look for include: frequent urination; excessive thirst; unexplained weight loss; extreme hunger; sudden vision changes; tingling or numbness in hands or feet; fatigue; dry skin, and more infections than usual. Diabetes can often lead to serious complications, such as heart disease, kidney disease, blindness, and lower-limb amputations. Lower-limb amputations occur when high blood sugar damages blood vessels and leads to blockage. These blocked vessels in legs can cause pain and impair circulation.

With Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not make insulin, a hormone that aids in glucose absorption to give cells their energy. Without insulin, too much glucose stays in the blood. In adults, Type 2 diabetes usually begins as insulin resistance, a disorder in which the cells do not use insulin properly, and it accounts for about 90 percent to 95 percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. Patients with diabetes can take steps to help control the disease and lower the risk of complications. Patients with Type 2 diabetes can control their blood glucose by eating healthy, creating an exercise program, losing excess weight, and taking oral medications. People who have Type 1 diabetes don’t make insulin and for these patients, injecting insulin is the only way they can help keep their blood glucose levels down.

Below are several ways that diabetes patients can reduce the risks of health complications:

  • Monitor blood sugar regularly. Glucometers are available at local pharmacies and are very easy to use. They should be used to monitor how the food affects blood sugar and report the results to a doctor.
  • Develop a plan with a doctor to control blood sugar through diet control, oral medications, injectable insulin, or a combination of these treatments.
  • Patients should listen to their body for signs that tell them their blood sugar is too high or too low.
  • Communicate with doctors, co-workers, and family or friends about diabetes. They will support and encourage patients with diabetes management.

In addition, Women In Government has launched a Diabetes Policy Resource Center available online for legislator use. The Policy Resource Center includes fact sheets; frequently asked questions; sample legislation; and other resources that will assist you in your efforts to educate your constituents on diabetes management and prevention and help improve quality of life for patients with diabetes. This Toolkit is located on the Women In Government website at www.womeningovernment.org.

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