An Online Wellness Magazine produced by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth)

Managing Diabetes

Taking control can save your life

Managing Diabetes

William “Nat” Gruesen heads to the gym five days a week, frequently goes on eight-mile bike rides and is considering training for a competitive fitness event. As someone who has never been overweight and who has such an active lifestyle, Gruesen isn’t exactly the typical candidate for Type 2 diabetes. But he’s got it.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, accounting for about 90 to 95 percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes in adults. With Type 2 diabetes, either the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin. Either way, insulin is essential for the body to be able to use glucose for energy.

A common myth about type 2 diabetes is that only people who are overweight or obese are at risk for the disease. The truth is many people with Type 2 diabetes are at a normal weight, like Gruesen. In addition, unusual weight loss can be a symptom of the disease.

Two years ago, Gruesen first noticed significant weight loss after getting a high-energy puppy. He attributed the weight loss to the daily eight-mile walks he’d take with the dog in an effort to lessen the energy level of the canine. “That was too time-consuming and didn’t really work either, so I trained my dog to run beside me while I rode my bike,” says Gruesen of the experience. “That cut the time down to a half hour in total and, finally, I had a tired dog!”

But even after decreasing the amount of exercise he performed daily, Gruesen continued to lose weight and did not feel well, so he visited Laura Rooney, DNP, at UT Health Services, part of the faculty clinical practice of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Nursing. “I was feeling terrible, and to eliminate other factors, she ordered a routine blood test,” says Gruesen.

The lab results showed that Gruesen’s blood sugar was in the high 400s (instead of the 90-110 normal range), so he was asked to return to the clinic for more tests. The additional tests later confirmed Type 2 diabetes. Gruesen says that UT Health Services director Tom Mackey, PhD, provided him with information about the disease, tips to help him manage his blood glucose levels and oral medications. 

Fast forward to today. Gruesen not only has become more knowledgeable about diabetes, but he’s nearly mastered self-managing the disease with the help of professionals at UT Health Services, which opened in 1991 and provides primary care, occupational health and employee health services to the university and other organizations in the Houston community.

Earlier this year, Gruesen participated in a series of Diabetes Self-Management Education (DSME) classes, one of the services offered at UT Health Services. Led by certified diabetic educators, the DSME classes are designed to teach people how to manage their diabetes by providing information on topics such as how to monitor blood sugar levels, reduce risks, eat healthier, increase their physical activity, take medications correctly and cope with the disease.  

Since his participation in the DSME class, Gruesen has continued to utilize resources at UTHealth. “I have been working with [UT Health Services registered dietitian] Shannon Weston, and we have worked out a nutrition plan to help me increase my food intake while keeping my glucose at optimum levels,” he says.

In addition to learning how to best manage his diabetes, Gruesen says that the class had emotional benefits for him as well. “I realized that I’m not the only one out there who is experiencing this,” he says. 

As an advocate for these classes, Gruesen wants others to know that enrollment is a collaborative effort between the patient and the health care provider. He says patients should be prepared to be challenged and willing to take action. In addition to working out often and watching his diet, Gruesen is responsible for monitoring his blood sugar levels daily. He uses an electronic monitor, which provides him with instant glucose results, to help him accomplish this task.

It is helpful for diabetic patients to keep a record of blood sugar readings several times during the day to help avoid hypoglycemia, which can occur when a person consumes too little food, takes too much insulin or diabetes medicine, or is more physically active than usual. Untreated hypoglycemia can cause seizures, loss of consciousness or, in severe cases, death.

Jing Wang, PhD, who soon will be recruiting for a clinical research study related to the self-monitoring of diabetes care, has previously recruited patients from past DSME classes.

“Self-monitoring is very important,” says Wang, an assistant professor at UTHealth School of Nursing. “Once they monitor what they’re doing, they become more aware.”