How Can Your Primary Care Physician Help You Manage Diabetes?

Coaching an Olympic athlete means giving expert guidance, support and motivation. A primary care doctor does much the same as they help people set and achieve goals to manage diabetes.

One in 10 Americans has this chronic health condition in which sugar builds up in the blood because the body can’t properly use insulin to convert food to energy. About 90 to 95% of people with diabetes have Type 2 diabetes, often linked to lifestyle.

“Being overweight and sedentary are the most common contributing factors in developing Type 2 diabetes. Family history, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are also often linked to the disease,” says Paula Villarejo, MD, an internal medicine specialist with Bethesda Group Practice – Arrow Springs.

Dr. Villarejo says unless a patient has severe symptoms and needs to see a specialist, she is able to work with her patients to manage their disease. “The patients I see who are taking their medications and changing their lifestyle are generally the most successful,” she says. “Taking a pill can be easy, but lifestyle changes are not as easy, and they should be taken as if it was another medication. I try to always talk about diet, and as a start I usually show them a portion-control-based plate and recommend that they fill it with half vegetables, and the other half with equal parts of proteins and carbohydrates. It is also important to drink plenty of water, and limit or avoid sweet beverages.”

She continues, “Your diet doesn’t have to be awful, but it has to be balanced. It’s a myth that you can never eat carbs or sugar again. You can still have carbs, but the key is in the control of the portion.”

Developing a healthy exercise routine is also part of the plan she formulates with patients. Dr. Villarejo

says these recommendations are “something we should all do – a diabetes diagnosis may be a wake-up call for family members in the household.”

She encourages family members to read about diabetes and its consequences if not controlled. Eating healthy meals together supports the person with diabetes and improves the health of all members. Recognizing signs of low blood sugar and high blood sugar in a person can prevent a serious health emergency.

How Do I Know if I Have Diabetes?

“It can take a while to diagnose diabetes, because symptoms can be vague and caused by other things,” Dr. Villarejo says. “You may start feeling fatigue and attribute it to not sleeping well or to stress at work.”

Common signs of diabetes include:

  • Fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Hunger
  • Unexplained weight loss

If you are having a number of unexplained symptoms, Dr. Villarejo strongly encourages you to see a primary care physician, who can provide a diagnosis and an ongoing treatment plan.

Some people with high blood sugar have no symptoms. Dr. Villarejo says that’s an important reason to get regular checkups with your primary care doctor, including blood tests. These tests will detect abnormal amounts of sugar in the blood.

Once a person is diagnosed with diabetes, Dr. Villarejo sees that person about every three months, until blood sugar is well-controlled through lifestyle changes and medicine, if needed. She recommends checkups every six months for those with a stable A1C blood count – a measure of average blood sugar levels over a two- to three-month period.

“As long as they are taking their medications, following a healthy diet and healthy exercise routine, people with diabetes can live a pretty normal life and do the things they want to do,” Dr. Villarejo says.

“It’s my job to understand what’s important to people and to find ways to motivate them to take care of their health – whether they do it for their families or themselves. I have seen both successes and complications in my patients who have diabetes, and I’m always working with them to achieve what’s best for them.”

Tags Diabetes