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Lifestyle changes make a difference for diabetics
Prevalence of disease highest in South, Appalachian states
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Diabetes support groups

Northeast Georgia Medical Center
When: Usually meets 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. the third Thursday of the month; no December meeting
Where: Lanier Park campus, 675 White Sulphur Road, Gainesville
How much: Free
Contact: 770-219-0966

The Longstreet Clinic
When: 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. second Tuesday of each month
Where: The Longstreet Clinic’s second-floor classrooms, 725 Jesse Jewell Parkway, Gainesville
How much: Free
Contact: 770-533-6551

When Connie Albigese was told a year ago that she had pre-diabetes, she admits she totally ignored the warning.

“I went into complete denial and continued to eat Blizzards. I didn’t heed any of (my doctor’s) advice,” Albigese said.

She was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in August.

“Then that’s what clicked with me is having her say, ‘OK, you’re no longer pre-diabetic, you’re diabetic,’” Albigese said. “I thought, ‘I’m approaching 60, I’ve got to get a handle on things.’”

Albigese is one of millions in the country to be diagnosed with the disease.

According to a Centers for Disease Control report released last week, in 2010 an estimated 18.8 million people in the U.S. were diagnosed with the disease. Another 7 million are estimated to have the disease but not know it.

Since 1990 the prevalence of diabetes nationwide has risen sharply among all age groups, racial and ethnic groups and sexes.

According to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the prevalence of diagnosed diabetes among adults in the U.S. increased 82 percent between 1995 and 2010.

The report said the prevalence of diabetes is highest in the South and Appalachian states and the numbers are increasing rapidly.

In Georgia, the number of cases increased 145 percent.

In 1995, Georgia was below the national average of diabetes cases by 0.5 percent. The number of cases in the state in 2010 surpassed the national average of 8.2 percent at 9.8 percent.

According to the report, the reason for the increased prevalence may be because people in Southern states have more risk factors such as a sedentary lifestyle and poor nutrition.

After her diagnosis, Albigese decided to change those habits, though.

She stopped eating sugary foods, cut simple carbohydrates from her diet and started walking for exercise. She began participating in a diabetes education program at Northeast Georgia Medical Center to help her learn more about the disease. Her doctor prescribed medication to help manage the disease as well.

She said she’s making great strides in improving her health in general and her blood glucose levels are improving. She’s also lost 26 pounds from making healthy food choices and increasing her activity.

“(Diabetes) forced me to re-evaluate my diet by having someone say to me, ‘You now have diabetes.’ It made me take a step back,” Albigese said.

Diabetes is a condition that causes the body to either stop making or stop using a hormone called insulin that helps distribute sugar or glucose into the blood for cells to use as energy. This causes sugar from food to build up in the blood and cause serious health problems. It is the seventh-leading cause of death in the U.S.

But with proper management, the condition can be maintained and serious health problems such as amputation and vision loss can be avoided.

While there isn’t a cure, steps can be taken to improve the condition or prevent diabetes from worsening.

Patients can learn more about diabetes and meet other people with similar conditions at diabetes support groups sponsored by local health care providers.

Hannah Shope Day, a diabetes educator at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, said it’s important for people to recognize that the disease has become more prevalent.

Patients should be aware of their personal risk factors, such as obesity, age and family history. People who are at risk should begin to incorporate heathy routines into their lifestyles as soon as possible.

“Adopting a healthy lifestyle now can prevent diabetes for many people,” Day said.

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