According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 100 million Americans have diabetes or pre-diabetes, making it the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. as of 2015. As a result, a number of nurses work with patients who have this disease.
Joyce M. Knestrick, PhD, APRN, CFNP, FAANP, president of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), says that one of the most alarming and interesting factors is that many patients who come to see their nurse practitioners (NP) have no idea that they have the disease. “Roughly a third of Americans with the disease do not know it, and every 21 seconds, another person is diagnosed. And it is for this reason that diabetes is called the ‘silent killer,’” explains Knestrick.
What can nurses do to help these patients? “As NPs, we discuss things like obesity, poor eating, and bad exercise habits as risk factors that drastically increase patients’ chances of becoming pre-diabetic or diabetic. That’s really what we do on a daily basis—examine patients for warning signs; get to know them by discussing their history, their lifestyles, and their families; and, if need be, order various tests to help us gain more information that allows us to put patients on a proper track towards better health,” explains Knestrick. “As NPs, the key is threefold: active listening to your patients, adaptability to each patient’s unique set of needs, and the flexibility to lead or assist a care team all the way through the patient’s care continuum. So it is really NPs who are on the front lines, so to speak, with the patients battling this disease, and we work very closely with organizations who are working hard to raise awareness about diabetes and how it can be prevented, mitigated, and treated.”
Diabetes, Knestrick says, has devastating effects on patients’ bodies. “NPs have a daily responsibility to understand the risk factors and work with patients to mitigate those risks before they become diabetic. Like with so many diseases, NPs help patients focus intensely on prevention efforts and ways to take better control of their daily health,” she says.
In addition to what diabetes can do to people’s bodies and affect their overall health, Knestrick also points out that there are also astronomical economic costs associated with this disease. “A lack of overall awareness had led to over $322 billion spent annually treating diabetes. This means that health care costs are almost two-and-a-half times higher for someone with diabetes, and that is largely because of additional and devastating complications that result,” she says. “That is why we cannot emphasize enough that it is not just about people with diabetes, but that everyone has a responsibility to elevate awareness so we can avoid the human and economic costs of this terrible disease.”
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