By Stacy Driks
Realizing the dangers of a diabetes diagnosis is just the beginning for millions of Americans.
That’s why hospitals like Montefiore Medical Center give patients and doctors a chance to educate others during National Diabetes Month in November and the rest of the year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claim that diabetes is an epidemic affecting more than 37 million people in the United States.
In New York, over 1.6 million adults — 10.5 percent — are diagnosed with diabetes. And yet less than half of a million don’t even know.
For this reason, the Montefiore Medical Center has created a series of workshops to educate people about diabetes and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Nurse practitioner Edwin Torres works in the hospital’s outreach program, which sends providers out into the communities.
The Fleischer Institute for Diabetes and Metabolism, located on the Einstein Morris Park campus, is a state-of-the-art research facility at the hospital dedicated to primary, transitional and clinical care for patients with diabetes and metabolic diseases.
“I have a very sweet deal. I can focus on caring for patients with diabetes,” Torres said.
Torres loves his job. He visits specialty clinics in the Bronx, Manhattan and Washington Heights where diabetes is already being diagnosed.
When GPs are unable to continue helping their patients manage their diabetes, a referral is sent to Torres and his colleagues. Then he can pick up patients where they live.
“Latinos and African Americans are more likely to develop diabetes than Caucasians,” Torres said.
According to 2020 census data, about 50 percent Hispanics lived in Riverdale, Fieldston, and Kingsbridge. Black African Americans made up 12 percent.
Of any borough in the city, the adult population of the Bronx has the highest prevalence of diagnosed diabetes at 16 percent.
In contrast, the Financial District in Lower Manhattan is in the single digits.
“Patients ask me what’s worse? Type 1 or Type 2, but I don’t think one is worse than the other,” Torres said.
He believes the biggest hurdle patients face is how to deal with it. If patients can handle Type 1, Torres has full confidence that patients can handle Type 2.
“The problem is when people think it’ll go away on its own, and then we allow the high blood sugar to cause organ damage — the word diabetes means high blood sugar,” Torres said.
But is type 2 reversible?
US News & World Report says: “Short answer: Yes. Long answer: it depends. And when it’s possible, it can be a big challenge.”
Increasing research shows that a person may be able to achieve remission.
The CDC’s Diabetes Division is dedicated to implementing science through programs to prevent type 2, which occurs when the body doesn’t produce insulin and can’t keep blood sugar at normal levels. About 90 to 95 percent of people have type 2, which usually develops over time.
One way to treat diabetes is to exercise at least 20 minutes a day, as this allows a person to sweat and remove sugar from the body. But that doesn’t mean you can just take a short walk and call it a day, Torres said.
Another way to treat diabetes is through a healthy diet. Stay away from sugar or other triggers to raise blood sugar, Torres said.
Then, of course, there are medications. According to the National Institutes of Health, the drug of choice for type 2 is metformin.
About 5 to 10 percent of people are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, which is caused by an autoimmune reaction where the body attacks itself. As a result, the body stops producing insulin.
On November 2, Montefiore Moses Campus held a discussion with staff and others to learn more about in-hospital programs available to Montefiore staff for diabetes-specific and general health.
On November 16, the Bethel Senior Center in Jerome Park hosted a diabetes awareness workshop and overview to better understand the symptoms.
Torres said it’s important that people over the age of 35 are screened for diabetes. It is best to find out as early as possible in order to delay or prevent complications.
“A chronic illness is very scary, but if we manage it well, it doesn’t have to be scary,” he said.