PULSE CHECK: Ashley Lipke, a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator at Cross Trails Medical Center, shares tips on avoiding diabetes as a family

Friday, August 3, 2012
Ashley Lipke, a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator at Cross Trails Medical Center, (Laura Simon)

Ashley Lipke grew up in Sikeston, Mo., and earned a bachelor's degree in nursing from Southeast Missouri State University. After marrying husband Scott Lipke, she literally stumbled into her job as a diabetes educator at Cross Trails Medical Center: "The day of my job interview there was about a foot of snow on the ground. As I walked toward the door, I fell face-first into the snow," she says. "I brushed the snow off and pulled myself together as best I could. When the CEO reached out to shake my hand, I remember her telling me that my hand was as cold as ice! That broke the ice, so to speak, and I explained that I had just fallen in the snow. That started a journey on the development of what is now one of the region's premier diabetes programs."

Twelve years later, Lipke can't imagine a better job for herself, and she's also a busy mom of three: Parker, age 10, Layton, 8, and Kate, 4. Here, she shares what women need to know about diabetes in their families:

Why do people get diabetes, and why is it becoming more prevalent? What are the short- and long-term effects of diabetes?

There are different types of diabetes: Pre-diabetes, Type 1, Type 2, gestational diabetes and diabetes associated with certain conditions of syndromes. The cause of diabetes depends on the type, ranging from genetic to an immune system response. Type 2 diabetes is on the rise due to lifestyle. Simply put, people are gaining weight and not exercising. The short-term side effects of diabetes include hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Symptoms of high blood sugar include being tired, thirsty and hungry, while the symptoms of low blood sugars can cause you to feel confused, nervous, have difficulty concentrating and fast heartbeat. The long-term effects of uncontrolled diabetes fall into two categories: Macrovascular complications and microvascular complications. Some examples of these include nerve damage, kidney damage, vision problems and cardiovascular complications. These complications can make living with diabetes difficult and can affect a woman's overall health.

What do women need to know about controlling our blood sugars and avoiding diabetes?

Women who are overweight and inactive and women who had gestational diabetes during pregnancy are more at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes. Controlling blood sugar is the key to avoiding complications. The sooner women can control their blood sugar, the better. As women age, it can be more difficult to control blood sugars. What worked before (diet and exercise) may not work as well. Type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease, so it is imperative for women to monitor their blood sugars and have regular follow-ups with their health care provider to ensure their diabetes is under control.

Diabetes is also becoming more common in children. What can we do for our families to keep diabetes at bay?

Type 2 diabetes is on the rise in adolescents. Obesity rates have tripled in this population. I encourage moms and dads to offer their children healthy snacks and plenty of opportunity for exercise. As a mother myself, I know how busy life can be with school work, extracurricular activities and play dates. But the health of your children is important, too. Find ways to exercise as a family. Go swimming with your daughter. Shoot some hoops with your son. Model good eating habits and a healthy lifestyle for your children.

What are some indicators we might need to have our blood sugars checked out?

As women age, our bodies can become more resistant to the insulin our bodies make. This is usually a gradual process. Women who are overweight, have central obesity and those who had gestational diabetes are more at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes. Pay attention to your body's signals. The symptoms of Type 2 diabetes are increased thirst, increased hunger, dry mouth, frequent urination, fatigue and unexplained weight loss. Women, in particular, can develop frequent yeast infections. An interesting symptom called acanthosis nigricans is a sign of insulin resistance and appears as velvety dark skin changes around the neck, armpit and groin. It may look like this area is just dirty, but it is a sign of insulin resistance. Contact your health care provider if you have any symptoms of Type 2 diabetes.

Tell us more about gestational diabetes: Why does this happen and what problems does it cause? How can we avoid it?

Gestational diabetes occurs in some pregnancies due to hormonal changes that cause the mom to become more insulin resistant. Women who are obese, those with a strong family history and those who had gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy are more at risk. Because the excess sugar in the mom's bloodstream can be passed on to the baby, the baby may grow too large, and after delivery the baby's blood sugar may drop too low. Women with gestational diabetes are at greater risk of needing a cesarean section. Complications of gestational diabetes can be avoided by keeping the blood sugar as close to normal as possible. Monitoring the blood sugar, following a meal plan and exercise can help keep blood sugars in control. Sometimes insulin is needed to control blood sugar during pregnancy. The good news is, blood sugar usually normalizes after the baby is born.

What's your best overall health advice for women?

Too often women are so busy caring for their family and loved ones that they fail to take care of themselves. Most of the women I know are juggling about 50 different things at a given time. The best overall health advice I can give to women is to take time to focus on your own health. I cannot stress the importance of preventive health care enough. Don't wait until it's too late. Make an appointment with your health care provider and stay on top of your health so you can continue to be there for the ones you love.

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