How you can stand up for yourself in managing diabetes

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You know managing your type 2 diabetes can be challenging, but you shouldn’t feel that way in your doctor’s exam room. If you feel like you have unanswered questions about your condition, you may be able to find ways to voice your concerns and receive better care. Being your own advocate and speaking up is key to managing your type 2 diabetes.

What is self-advocacy?

Self-advocacy represents your own interests while dealing with your condition. It will help you find, evaluate and use information for your health. Learning to be your own advocate can help you feel like you’re in control of your type 2 diabetes and not the other way around, says Sneha Srivastava, PharmD, a board-certified diabetes care and education specialist in Chicago.

Find out everything you need to know about type 2 diabetes

You want to educate yourself and put a healthy living plan into action, with the understanding that you may need to tweak your plan along the way. “It’s important to learn as much as you can about type 2 diabetes. It’s knowledge plus action that leads to healthy blood sugar levels and doesn’t lead to the complications associated with high blood sugar,” says Srivastava.

First, know your numbers (A1c, blood pressure, cholesterol levels) and what they mean. Familiarize yourself with the technology options that may be available to you, advises Srivastava. There are apps and devices that can help you manage different aspects of diabetes. These include free phone apps to log what you eat or continuous blood glucose meters that can measure your blood sugar.

“Understand the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of your medication,” says Srivastava. “There are now drugs that can help lower your blood sugar, protect your kidneys or heart, or help you achieve a healthy weight. And sometimes, depending on what insurance you have or whether you have insurance, there are ways to choose the right drugs that are also affordable.”

Lifestyle also has a big impact. Sticking to your treatment plan will help prevent complications like heart disease, nerve damage, and blindness. Habits like watching your intake of refined carbohydrates, keeping exercise, and managing stress can keep you from taking medication.

All of this may seem like a big request at first. If you need help, you can ask for a referral to a Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (DCES). They will guide you through any fears or issues and what to expect at your next appointment.

How to represent yourself when faced with care disparities

Diabetes affects more than 34 million people in the United States, but it doesn’t affect all communities equally, according to the CDC. Treating type 2 diabetes can be especially important for black, Native American, and Hispanic men and women. These groups are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, but often face an uphill battle when it comes to diagnosis and treatment.

“There are very real statistics showing that people of color have higher rates of type 2 diabetes and complications from diabetes. What contributes to this inequality are injustices and unequal access to care and resources that exist in some communities,” says Srivastava.

“It is important to be your own advocate,” says Srivastava. According to her, this means ensuring that:

  • Everything on your diabetes checklist is addressed.
  • You will be referred to the right specialists as soon as you need to see them.
  • You feel respected and heard.
  • Your values, culture and preferences will be taken into account in your care.

If you don’t think that’s the case, you have every right to find a healthcare provider who will do all of these and make you feel like part of the team, says Srivastava. “Regardless of your race, ethnicity or gender, diabetes can be managed in a healthy way [with care] based on patient preferences.”

Work with your healthcare team

Diabetes can affect you from head to toe, so make sure you’re referred for eye exams, teeth cleaning, feet exams, lab tests, and everything else in between. It takes a medical team to keep you in the best of health with type 2 diabetes.

“Knowing where to get your information is just as important as the information itself,” says Srivastava. “Your healthcare team can help you find the right resources. It’s easy to get overwhelmed because there is so much information about diabetes, but you don’t need to know everything at once.”

How to become a self-advocate

Be open and honest. Don’t be afraid of being judged. Even if you’re usually uncomfortable speaking up, try to push yourself. If something isn’t working, your doctors may not know unless you tell them. It can mean the difference in your care and quality of life.

“It’s natural to hesitate or feel uncomfortable when discussing what you need for your diabetes care at doctor’s appointments,” says Srivastava. “It can be overwhelming, and sometimes appointments can feel rushed.” There are things you can do to make it easier for you to be part of the conversation:

  • Come prepared. Keep a diabetes notebook with all your information and any questions you may have to bring to your appointments.
  • bring support. A trusted friend or family member can be reassuring and also help you remember everything that was said during the visit.

“Too often, people with diabetes are simply told to eat better, exercise more, and take medication,” says Srivastava. “But what if… the drug costs too much, or you can’t find the time to cook, or the exercise doesn’t work because your knees hurt too much?”

“Being part of the conversation allows you to share your barriers or challenges to change, discuss what you can and want to do, and understand the recommendations made,” says Srivastava. “And finally, being a lawyer means trusting yourself. If something doesn’t feel right or you feel like you don’t really understand the recommendations or how to integrate them, share and ask.”

And if your treatment plan is working well, keep communicating with your doctors and share the good news. “The focus of this team is you, the person with diabetes. You know your body, your experiences, goals, expectations, questions and schedule,” says Srivastava. “You know how best you’ll be able to make the changes to keep your blood sugar at healthy levels and keep the complications away.”

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