Be your own advocate during Diabetes Awareness Month
Nov. 30, 2022
By Katie Minor
When Emily Smaniotto was just 9 years old, she received a diagnosis that would alter the course of her life and career. Suddenly, Emily had to adjust to a childhood consisting of paying close attention to her diet, daily injections and finger-sticks.
She was told she had type 1 diabetes, a lifelong health condition that around 64,000 Americans are diagnosed with each year.
Diabetes essentially affects how your body turns food into energy. Your body breaks down most of the food you eat into sugar (glucose) and releases it into your bloodstream. When your blood sugar goes up, it signals your pancreas to release insulin. Insulin acts like a key to let the blood sugar into your body’s cells for use as energy.
When a person has diabetes, their body doesn’t produce as much insulin or use it as well as it should. The blood sugar stays in the bloodstream and causes health problems over time.
Type 1 diabetes – the kind Smaniotto was diagnosed with – is one of three types of the disease, and people living with it need to take insulin every day. It is mostly diagnosed in children and young adults. Type 2 diabetes is the most common type and develops over many years, so it is mostly diagnosed in adults. The third type is gestational diabetes, or diabetes while pregnant.
The cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown, but scientists think genetic factors play a part. Smaniotto has family members living with type 1 diabetes – including her own father – so while the news about her diagnosis was hard to hear, it didn’t come as a total shock.
But like more than 37 million other Americans, Smaniotto was able to adapt to her new lifestyle with diabetes. Her experience and expertise around diabetes propelled her into the healthcare field as a registered nurse and diabetes counselor at the WVU Medicine Diabetes Education Center, offering help and access to services for people with diabetes.
One vital part of living with diabetes – and something that Emily Smaniotto offers advice about regularly – is the importance of good nutrition.
Living with diabetes is all about managing your blood sugar to stay in its target range in order to reduce any health risks. Eating the right foods at the right time helps people living with diabetes stay as healthy as possible. Healthy eating is also the best way to prevent type 2 diabetes.
Some good ways to develop healthy eating habits include:
- Practicing meal prepping/planning
- Reading nutrition labels
- Picking healthy foods at the grocery store, especially fruits and vegetables
- Working with a nutritionist or diabetes educator like Emily Smaniotto
Another way people manage living with diabetes is with a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). For many years, the only way to measure glucose levels was by pricking a person’s finger for a drop of blood. With a CGM, a sensor is inserted under the skin and checks the glucose levels every few minutes. CGMs can be compatible with smartphones, so you can check your glucose levels with an app on your phone.
Living with diabetes in 2022 means being able to use helpful devices like a CGM. But there is a huge downside to today’s diabetes: rising health care costs. Insulin costs exploded between 2014 and 2019, rising 54% in just five years.
“No one should have to ration insulin to be able to put food on the table,” Smaniotto said.
It is disappointing that it has become so difficult for people with diabetes to afford insulin, but there is plenty of support. Smaniotto urges people to be their own advocate. Unlike most other health conditions, diabetes is mainly managed by the patient. So if you need help or have questions, it’s important that you say something to your doctor or nurse.
The same is true for financial help. If you need help managing the cost of living with diabetes, the WVU Diabetes Education Center is a great place to start. You can call their clinic at 304-598-4391 on Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Katie Minor is the public information office assistant at Monongalia County Health Department.