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April 29, 2009 > "Can We Talk?"

"Can We Talk?"

Diabetes Matters Class Discusses How To Prepare for Doctor's Visits

Controlling diabetes is a team effort, requiring honest, open communication between patients and their physicians. That's why it is important to make the most of the limited amount of time available for most doctor appointments by preparing in advance.

"Your doctors - whether they are primary care physicians or specialists such as endocrinologists, podiatrists or ophthalmologists - need to know about your health history and your current concerns in order to provide you with the best possible care," says Washington Hospital endocrinologist Dr. Prasad Katta.

To help people in the community learn more about how to get the most out of doctor appointments, Washington Hospital is sponsoring a free "Diabetes Matters" class, featuring a lecture by Dr. Katta. A question-and-answer session will follow the lecture. The class is scheduled for Thursday, May 7 from 7 to 8 p.m. in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. auditorium in the Washington West Building at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont. Participants are also invited to stay for the diabetes support group that will take place at 8 p.m. immediately following the Diabetes Matters class.

"During the first visit with a new doctor, you generally will be given a complete physical exam, including blood tests, and asked about your personal medical history as well as your family history," he explains. "For many people, it helps to write information down before seeing the doctor so they don't forget to convey important facts."

Dr. Katta notes that physicians will want to know:
* Do you have a family history of diabetes? If so, which family members had diabetes and how severe were their conditions?

* Have you previously been diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes? Any patient with pre-diabetes should be screened every six to 12 months.

* Do you have other medical conditions in addition to diabetes, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol? People with diabetes often have high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which increase their risk for heart disease and other complications of diabetes.

* Are you currently taking any medications? It is best to provide a written list of all medications, including non-prescription drugs and supplements, listing the dosage and frequency of use.

* Do you measure your blood sugar levels on a regular basis? A written record of your blood sugar levels - along with a "food journal" that tracks how your diet relates to blood sugar levels - can be an important tool in evaluating the effectiveness of various treatments for diabetes.

* Are you experiencing any symptoms that would indicate your diabetes is not well controlled? Late symptoms can include frequent urination, excessive thirst and extreme hunger, especially for sugary foods. More extreme symptoms might include unexplained weight loss, extreme fatigue, irritability, blurred vision, tingling and numbness in the hands or feet, frequent bladder or vaginal yeast infections, and slow healing of cuts or bruises.

* What are your eating and exercise patterns?

"In the early stages, diabetes often produces no overt physical symptoms," Dr. Katta explains. "Diabetes is generally slow in progressing, and patients may not sense any symptoms for years, so the diagnosis of serious problems may be delayed. That's why people with a family history of diabetes should have thorough medical check-ups at regular intervals. For people with no family history of diabetes or other risk factors, the American Diabetes Association recommends a blood sugar screening every three years, beginning at age 45. Those who have a family history or other risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol should be screened more frequently."

For patients who have already been diagnosed with diabetes, Dr. Katta emphasizes the importance of carefully monitoring blood sugar levels.

"When patients are first diagnosed, they should measure their blood sugar levels several times a day to evaluate the effectiveness of their medications," he says. "Once the patient is stable on oral medications, one measurement a day may be fine, but you should stagger the times when you measure - sometimes in the morning before eating, sometimes at mid-day, sometimes after dinner or a dessert. Patients who are on insulin need to measure their blood sugar levels more often, at least three times a day.

"Providing your physician with a written record of your blood sugar levels is very important for monitoring how well your diabetes is controlled," he adds. "Information from the newer blood sugar meters can be downloaded onto a computer, so you can simply bring the meter into the doctor's office and have the data downloaded on the doctor's computer. Many people find it useful to keep one meter at home and another at work so they don't have to carry it with them at all times."

In addition to written notes about your health history, medications, symptoms and blood sugar levels, Dr. Katta recommends keeping a journal of any questions that arise in between office visits. Then, during an appointment, ask about the questions that concern you.

"Make sure your questions are answered," he emphasizes. "If you don't understand the answers, ask the doctor to explain what he or she means. If you are confused or have trouble remembering the doctor's instructions, ask for written instructions. And, of course, if you have an urgent question, don't wait to schedule an appointment. A lot of questions can be answered over the phone."

If you would like to learn how to better approach your next doctor's visit, register for the seminar at (800) 963-7070. To find out about other diabetes education classes, call (510) 745-6556.

Diabetes Support Group

Success in managing diabetes has a lot to do with receiving and giving social support. For people who suffer from diabetes, Washington Hospital's Outpatient Diabetes Program offers a support group that allows people to have in-depth conversations about what's happening in their lives and share information about dealing with diabetes in a positive and caring environment.

The support group meetings are held at 8 p.m. every month immediately following the hour-long Diabetes Matters lecture which begins at 7 p.m. the first Thursday of each month. Family members and friends are also welcome. For more information about the support group or other classes and programs, call the Diabetes Services program at (510) 745-6556 or visit us on the web:

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