Diabetes up slightly in the county

Patti Carpenter

November is Diabetes Awareness Month throughout the country. In response, North Big Horn Hospital is making a push to raise awareness about the disease.

According to the hospital’s clinical educator, Hiedi Christensen, roughly 13 percent of Big Horn County residents have been diagnosed with diabetes, a number that has held steady and even increased slightly in the past several years.

“I expect the numbers to go up if we are doing our job, because people are getting educated and they’re getting tested,” explained Christensen.

According to the most recent statistics released by the National Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the number of diabetics in the U.S. has risen to 34.2 million or 10.2 percent of the population. The CDC estimates that another 7.3 million people have diabetes but have not yet been diagnosed.

In the state of Wyoming, 51,916 people or 10.9 percent of the state’s adult population are diabetic, which is in keeping with the national average. Additionally, it is estimated that 14,000 Wyomingites have diabetes but don’t know it yet, greatly increasing their health risk. The American Diabetes Association estimates that 153,000 people in Wyoming or 35.7 percent of the state’s adult population have high enough blood glucose levels to be considered pre-diabetic.

According to NBHH registered dietician Haley Schroth, it’s not too late to do something about it. The course of the disease can be altered, especially in the early, pre-diabetic stage, through simple changes to diet and activity levels.

“You can make lifestyle changes and that helps,” explained Schroth. “It kind of depends on the range you’re in, in the beginning. If you’re in the pre-diabetes range, you might be able to lower your A1C (blood glucose) to the point that you’re not considered pre-diabetic anymore. The goal of our program is to prevent diabetes, if we can, through lifestyle changes. The idea is to prevent complications before they happen.”

Schroth works with diabetic patients referred to her by providers at the hospital. She said she’s seen dramatic results including reductions in the amount of medication some patients require.

“We take an individualized approach in our diabetes education plan,” explained Schroth. “The plan doesn’t look the same for everyone. It depends on what other diagnoses they have and what else is going on in their lives. We try to work with people where they are at. Whether they’re willing to change right away or want to change just a little bit or in the information gathering stage, we meet them there. That way we’re not overwhelming them with information and suggestions they’re not ready for yet.”

Schroth recommends patients check in with her regardless of how long they’ve been dealing with the disease.

“The times have changed so much,” she said. “Sometimes it’s a good idea for someone who was diagnosed a long time ago to come back in because there are different medications available now and different approaches to lifestyle changes that can be helpful, so it’s good to come in to get updated education.”

Schroth is currently offering individual visits scheduled through the patient’s provider. The scope of the visit is unique to each patient.

“The first time, we sit down and talk about goals,” explained Schroth. 

She said the length of the visit varies but tends to be slightly longer for newly diagnosed patients than for annual or follow-up visits.

“It really depends on the person. Some come back on an annual basis and others come back as needed,” she said. “It’s usually more than one visit, though. 

“Of course, if they choose not to come back, that’s their decision, but it’s really hard to make lifestyle changes in one visit. People need the support and it’s hard to teach everything we need to teach in 60 or 90 minutes. We need more time than that to facilitate change.”

Diabetes is a disorder that affects the way the body uses sugar. Cells in the body need sugar to function. A hormone called insulin helps that sugar make its way into the cells. Patients with diabetes either have cells that do not respond to insulin or do not produce enough insulin or both. If there is not enough insulin helping sugar get into the cells, sugar builds up in the blood.

Diabetes affects many parts of the body and can cause serious complications. People diagnosed with diabetes often develop foot problems that can get worse, leading to serious complications. Patients can also develop nerve damage and poor circulation causing them to lose feeling in their feet. Left untreated, certain problems can lead to amputation. Diabetics are also at greater risk for developing eye complications such as cataracts, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy and even blindness. Diabetics can also develop kidney disease and are more likely than the average population to have high blood pressure. 

In 2017, diabetes was determined by the CDC to be the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, based on the number of death certificates listing it as an underlying cause of death.

In an effort to raise awareness, Schroth and Christensen are setting up an informational booth in the NBHH clinic waiting room every Monday in November. They will be available with information and to answer questions about diabetes from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on those days.

The staff at the hospital will be showing support for diabetes awareness for the entire month of November by wearing blue on Mondays. Christensen encouraged community members to also wear blue to show their support.

Schroth and Christensen encourage all community members, especially those with a family history of diabetes, to have their blood sugar level checked in November. The A1C blood test can be arranged through a provider and will be available at the upcoming Wyoming Health Fair, to be held at the Lovell Community Center, on Nov.12, from 7 to 10 a.m. Schroth and Christensen will have a table set up at the health fair with information about the disease.