Home Authors Posts by Valerie Paxton

Valerie Paxton

Valerie Paxton is a co-founder of AllegroMedical.com and lives in Phoenix, AZ. In 1997 she set out with her business partner, Craig Hood to form Allegro Medical - a company dedicated to helping people lead more independent and healthy lives. They poured their knowledge and experience into AllegroMedical.com and now have more than 1 million customers nationwide. Valerie has a degree in Journalism from the University of Nebraska and has spent most of her career in communications, marketing, PR, and investor relations. She enjoys giving advice, mentoring, volunteering, writing, reading, cooking, telling funny stories, healthy eating, her cocker spaniel Honey, her boyfriend Todd, hiking, kayaking, jokes and world travel. Follow Valerie on Twitter at http://twitter.com/vpaxton

Allergies are in full bloom here.  The sounds of sneezes and sniffles fill the air here at the Allegro HQ and everyone is asking themselves… “Do I have a cold?  Is it Allergies?  Do I have a cold?…. 

If you can’t tell, and it is April in AZ, it’s probably nasal allergies.

Back when, folks moved here from other States to get away from allergens, and for the dry air.  But, ooops, they brought their allergy trees with them and now they are everywhere, chock full of pollenous sneezeballs.  Nice going, ancestors.

Okay, so here are our Top 5 Allergy Products.  Feel better!

1.    Autodrop Eye Drop Guide –  I pride myself on my eye dropping prowess.  But hey, not everyone is rock steady with  nerves of steel.  That’s probably why we sell so many of these!  Don’t waste another drop, squirting your forehead and your ears and chin with allergy eye drops.  Let us guide you.


2.     Multi-Tech 2000 Air Purifier.  With a name like that, who could resist?  It combines 6 proven air-cleaning technologes into one unit, including a true HEPA Filter.  Removes dust, allergens, mold, micro-organism, cigarette smoke, odors, chemicals, bacteria and much more.

See all Air Purifiers.


3.     Allergy-Free Pillow – Everyone should have a hypoallergenic pillow even if you don’t have allergies.  The extremely small fabric pore size creates a barrier to allergens including lint, dust, dust mites and their… um… by-products.  Raise your hand if you want to avoid sleeping on dust mite poo!  That’s what I thought.  You can put your hand down now.  You’ll need it for ordering. 🙂  Read Why Your Pillow is Gross and How to Pick a New One.  Go a step further and spring for a Zip & Block Anti-Allergen Mattress Encasing.

See All Pillows.


4.    Ultrasonic, Cool-Mist Humidifier 2500X – Makes you feel better.  Keeps your nasal passages moist.  This one has an optional Ion-Exchange Filter.  Read Humidifier Types & Tips for more ideas.


5.    Nasal Spray – Saline 1.5 oz – Squirt this up your nose if it is dry or if you have nasal congestion.  It helps keep your nose moist inside and it shrinks swollen nasal membranes.  Great especially if you have to fly and you have allergies.  It seems to help me ward off sinus infections too, when I’m feeling sinus congestion,  but don’t take that as medical advice.  Use Simply Saline Nasal Moist Gel with Aloe ‘around’ the nose for soothing relief.

Bonus Tip:  Save your marriage and try the Snore Wizard if your allergy induced snoring is driving your spouse crazy.

See All Nasal Allergy Products.

For tips on avoiding nasal allergens, read Yo Sneezy! Stop Tromping through the Forest.

I recently heard on the news that anxiety related doctor visits are on the rise.  Specifially, symptoms like upset stomach, insomnia, panic attacks and muscle aches.  They said that worries about the economy and personal financial turmoil are making people physically sick.  Is the economy making you sick?  If so, how can you be healthy when all you want to do is ignore your problems, eat a Whopper and drink yourself into oblivion?

For me, worry manifests itself in racing thoughts or “mind chatter”.  It happens at night, mostly, when I’m trying to sleep or early morning when I’m having lucid dreams.  It drives me crazy when I’m having a totally irrational dream and I keep having it over and over again.  It usually means I need to face the problem and deal with it.  But what do you do when you just can’t stop thinking about your situation or problem?   Here are a few things that work for me:

1.  Stretch and Breathe.  I know it may sound hokey, but I’m telling you it’s changed my life.  Get yourself a DVD – I have several but the one I started with is AM/PM Yoga for Beginners.   You can get this used (1998 VHS)  for under $2 bucks on Amazon.  You’ll can also get more updated versions as well as DVDs for stretches for bad backs, weight loss, abs, etc.  Do it every day and you’ll start feeling calmer, among other things.  Your mind will be on the exercises and not on your problems.  Many workouts include at least a few minutes of meditation and breathing exercises.  The morning yoga tape only takes 15 minutes and it’s a great way to start your day.  Need some gear?  Get a Yoga Starter Kit (my favorite) or see all of Allegro Medical’s Yoga Equipment.  Need something more concrete?  See 10 Products to Help you Relax.

2.  Get into nature.  Go outside and walk around.  Plant something or dig around in the dirt.  Go to the park and sit in the grass or swing on the swingset.  Get out of the city if you can.  Reconnecting with the earth does wonders for your psyche.

3.  Focus on things you can control.  Most of our worry is wasted on things we can’t control, or things that never come to fruition.  Read Managing Stress: Practical Advice from a Pro.  This article will also help you become a constructive problem solver.   

4.  Find your safe harbor.  I use this type of visualization when I’m having trouble sleeping because of racing thoughts or recurring dreams.  It’s all about having a place to visit, in your mind, whenever you want to relax.  It might be a warm beach, a field of flowers (that’s mine but I’ll share) or a sidewalk cafe in Paris.  Whatever.  Whenever you need to escape you just close your eyes and visualize it. 

5.  Meditate.  Okay, this may actually happen for some people.  You sit down and just be quiet and have a matra or you do breathing exercises, etc.  But unless I have someone making me do it, I don’t.  If this is you, I suggest you go to a class or listen to a tape or something while you’re doing it.  I’m all for it, I just never can get myself to stick with it.  Let me know how it works for you.

6.  Be nice.  Turning your focus to others ALWAYS makes you feel better and stops the mind chatter.  Go a step further and help out with a local charity.  Just find one that you fancy and call them to see if they need any help!  A few hours of doing nice things for other people can completely change the way you look at your situation.  Even simple acts of kindness or random acts of kindness make you feel better.  Start by saying something nice to the next person you see. 

Bonus:  When I can’t get a song out of my head, I break the cycle by singing a foreign tune.  Freres Jacques is a popular one, but anything foreign will do.

Ahhhhh…. Ommmmm….  Hmmmmm….

Everybody is experiencing stress at the moment.  We are not just worried about our own situation, but tend to worry about our children, parents and friends as well. The economic insecurities manifest in increased anxiety, insomnia, irritability and feelings of depression and helplessness.

Most of us already implement stress reduction techniques- some helpful, and some harmful.  Examples of helpful stress management are exercising, meditation, prayer, massage and visiting friends, to name but a few. On the other hand, at the same time, we engage in gossip, develop a cover your own butt attitude, obsess, over-eat/drink/smoke/gamble – all not helpful stress management techniques.

How do we determine if our stress management techniques are helpful or harmful?  Someone in one of my seminars said a six-pack is helpful but a 12-pack is harmful.  Exactly!  I usually ask myself three questions to determine if it is a good way to deal with something or not.

1) Does it calm me down = increase a sense of peace?

2) Does it make me feel good about myself?

3) Does it lead to action?

If your stress management activities do any or all of these three things, it is probably helpful.  Let’s take the example of “talking to someone”.  It really depends.  Some people will just rile you up some more, while others have the ability to calm you down.  Some get you fretting about things you have no control over, while others motivate you to do something for someone else.  We also tend to keep doing the same thing over and over, not stopping to see if it is helpful or harmful. Try to check in with yourself and ask yourself if your actions are helping or hurting.

We all function within a big circle of concern (things that impact us) and a much smaller circle of control (things we impact).  If I spend my stress management time in the big circle of concern (things that I have no control over), I tend to obsess, worry and see doom and gloom. Think of it as an anti clockwise energy drain – it spins around its own axel. On the other hand, no matter how small the action that I take, if I function in the circle of control, I will feel better about myself. If you can not drum up enough energy to do something for yourself, do something for somebody else. It will allow you to feel good about yourself and, once again, it is action.

What can you do if your symptoms of stress increase? Identify the three most helpful techniques for yourself. Think about times when you have felt very calm, or very good about yourself or very much in control. What lead you to that? Try to increase those activities. Standard prescriptions for stress management usually include some kind of physical activity – walking, biking, swimming, playing with the dog etc. Any activity that gets you moving will help your body settle down. The second part of it is some kind of activity to get you in a peaceful, “in the moment” place. This can be meditation, prayer, deep breathing or a massage. At the same time, try to lessen the harmful things that you are doing that keeps you in a state of worrying.

However, if things are getting out of control, contact someone for help. Help can be practical, action oriented help such as budget creating, or peace oriented help such as speaking to a counselor. There are many free resources at the moment to help you deal with your stress. Make use of it! It is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of activity which is, in itself, stress reducing. And, if all else fails… remember the old adage… “this too shall pass.”

– Marita Klein

About the Author:  Marita is an organizational development consultant who has helped many private and organizational clients live the lives they want through her forthright, no nonsense approach to management and life. She has a Ph.D. in organizational psychology and has worked effectively as executive coach and consultant in South Africa, Canada and the US. She can be contacted at:  maritaklein (at) cox (dot) net.

I wish I could say exactly how it happened but after four years on Diovan – which had been keeping my blood pressure at right around 120/80 – my BP dropped so low my doc took me completely off of it.   This morning, after not taking the medication for nearly two weeks, my BP was 117/72.  PERFECT!!  Last night before I went to bed it was 118/73.  I test it with the Omron Portable Wrist Blood Pressure Monitor, which has been checked by my doctor to be accurate when compared with the one in her office.

A couple weeks ago I had just popped the pill when it struck me that I hadn’t checked my BP in a while.  I took it and it was 91/59.  Woah!  Yikes!  I called my doc and got an appointment for a couple days later, and in the meantime I was told to monitor it and not take the medication if it was too low.  It was mostly normal-to-low the next day.  The night before my appointment it was running really, really low – like 87/54.  Freaked me out a little. 

At the doctor’s office, they took my blood pressure while I was lying down, standing up, sitting up – about 3 times and confirmed it was running normal-to-low.  I showed them the readings from my home wrist monitor which keeps results in its memory.  They were amazed at the readings and said I was officially off the Diovan but I needed to keep an eye on it and see them in a month.   I was totally excited (don’t get too excited, Valerie), but danged if I know what caused the change. 

Four years ago, my blood pressure was consistently in the 160s, 170s and over 90s and 100s.  It was kindof a fluke that we discovered this so I suggest that if you don’t have yours checked regularly, no matter how old you are, you at least get an inexpensive home unit.  I was 42 years old and in good shape.  No family history.  No signs of a problem.  As is my nature, I fought against traditional BP medication and my doc tried salt pills and beta blockers instead – but they weren’t working.  Then, I had to go into the hospital for an unrelated outpatient surgery and my BP clocked in at 207/107 so they had to admit me.  They put me in the telemetry wing to monitor my heart and after a bunch of tests they couldn’t find any reason for such high blood pressure.  So they brought it down with strong drugs, did my surgery and released me with an Rx for Diovan. 

My doctor said it’s called essential or primary hypertension when the they are unable to find a specific cause.  She said it was probably stress and reminded me of my “extreme lifestyle”.  

I pulled out the big guns and resolved to lower my stress.  To see what I did, read 15 Stress Tips that Could Save Your Life.

The only other thing that might be helping are my spinal adjustments.  In fact, my chiropractor, Dr. Mike, is taking full credit for lowering my blood pressure.  At first I just laughed, thinking he wasn’t serious, but he was dead serious.  

I started seeing him to help ease occasional spasms in my back.  No more than 8 treatments later, I’m off my blood pressure meds.  Coincidence?  Maybe, but honestly it is the only really significant change I’ve made in my life recently.  His name is Dr. Mike Henriksen, Spinal Correctionn Center, tel. 480-460-1177. 

He said that lower blood pressure due to his treatments are not uncommon. It has to do with my atlas bone (1st cervical vertabrae) coming into alignment.  In fact, he’s helped people get off all kinds of medications.  I’m sure if you called his office he, or his assistant Kathy, would be happy to explain.  He uses his patented Turbo Drop Table to make the adjustments and doesn’t “crack” your back or neck (he says crack kills).  Dr. Mike is world-renowned and trains chiropractors all over the world so maybe one of his trainees is near you.  Plus, he’s a really nice guy.

But I digress.

All I know is that I must be doing something right.  Whether it’s the yoga, the hiking, the multi-vitamins, the spinal adjustments or the happy, healthy life I’m leading, I can’t say.   Perhaps it is the alien visit I had last month . . . kidding . . .

I’ll be writing a series of stress-relief blogs over the next week, so if you want to take control of your stress – stay tuned!  Don’t know if you’re stressed?  Take the Stress Test.

Spring is springing and it’s time to go play in the dirt, right? Not so fast, Marge. Gardening and lawn work will help you find muscles you didn’t know you had if you’re not physically ready for it. Especially if your winter routine didn’t include a lot of bending, reaching and kneeling.

Reduce the risk of injuries, skip the low-back pain and soreness, increase blood flow, improve balance and relieve tension with some quick pre- and post-gardening stretches. The following routine only takes 2 minutes for the warm up and you can use the same stretches afterwards for your cool-down.

1. Neck. Stretch your neck by slowly moving your head from side to side, laying your head first toward one shoulder and then the other. Repeat a couple of times. Now move it front and back with your chin on your chest and then tipped back. Hold for a few seconds.

2. Back and Shoulders. Bend forward at the waist and let your hands hang toward your toes. Roll your shoulders back and around, as if you are shrugging. This elongates your spine and loosens your back. Stand up slowly and place your palms on the back of your pelvis and lean back from the waist. Drop your head back and hold it for a few seconds.

3. Trunk. Reach one arm across your chest. Twist that same direction. While you’re doing that, reach the other arm behind your back. Do this 3 or 4 times, switching arm positions. This works the trunk and opens the spine.

4. Upper torso. Hold your arms straight out at shoulder height. Make fists. Pull your arms back as if you were trying to touch your elbows in the back. Tighten your fists and then push your hands in front again. Roll your shoulders forward to stretch your upper back. Open your hands with your wrists flexing up and spread your fingers as you push forward. Do this several times.

5. Ankles & Lower Body. Lift your knee as high as you can and point your toes toward the ground as far as you can. Then extend your leg forward, with your leg straigh and flex your ankle up, with your toes facing the sky. This will loosen most of your leg.

6. Knees. I like to add a few deep squats and lunges just to get my knees extra warm. Use a rake or chair for balance. While I’m lunging I stretch and flex my fingers. This helps grip strength.

Continue your warm-up in the garden by starting slow. While you work, be mindful and thoughtful about how your body is positioned. Try not to twist a lot or stay in one position too long. Stand up at least every 10 minutes if you’re bent over or on your knees. Make sure you’re using ergonomic garden tools. Read Gardening Made Easy to see what I mean.

Save the heavy lifting for later – say, a half-hour into it. Make sure you’re good and warmed up before you start moving pots and bags of soil.

Drink plenty of water! Set a kitchen timer if you need to be reminded. Every 20 minutes take 5 big gulps.

A good cool-down is even more important than a good warm up. After gardening, don’t just sit down. Take 10 minutes or so and really stretch to keep that lactic acid from building up and making you sore later. Use the stretches above as a guide, but do them slower and longer.

Do you have a tip or a favorite stretch? Please share it!

I love digging in the dirt, planting seeds and relishing the fruits of my labor just as much as the next gal, but nothing crumps me up faster than a few hours in the garden. My friend and co-worker Melissa swears that her mom’s knee replacements were directly related to her years of gardening. I believe it. Kneeling and stretching and bending, oh my!

I tell ya, these products are worth their weight in gold whether you’re a professional greenthumb or a weekend warrior. They’re especially awesome if you want to keep gardening, but your arthritis or other pain is stopping you.

Gardener’s Easy-Up Kneeler & Seat – My absolute favorite! Use the side handles to ease yourself up and down on the padded cushion and then flip over the whole thing and use it as a seat. Great for indoors too – you can kneel on it while giving the kids a bath or cleaning baseboards. Makes a GREAT gift. Mother’s Day is coming up!

Easi-Grip Add-On Handles– Pack of 2 – Convert your in-line garden tools into an ergonomic grip that will keep your hand and wrist at a natural angle. Reduce twisting, wrist strain, callouses, arm strain and back pain. They can even improve your grip on the rake, hoe, vacuum, golf trolley and other sports equipment. Eureka!

Long Reach Gardening Tools – Stainless steel, high quality. Get all 5 as a discounted set, or order the culitvator, fork, trowel, hoe or arm support cuff separately. The long handles let you reach further to the ground or further into the flower bed without bending. You can even sit down and garden! The ‘soft-feel’ ergonomic handle keeps your hand and wrist in a natural position. Lightweight. Non-slip grip. Mighty hip, Skip!

Easi-Grip Gardening Set – These are like the long-handled ones above but they’re short. Same great ‘soft feel’ non-slip ergonomic handle and high quality stainless steel. These tools will keep your wrist and hand in a stress-free position to avoid wrist strain and palm callouses. Tools are also sold separately.

Bionic Gardening Gloves – What am I, Jamie Austin? Okay, really, these things are neat and they’re top-grade, machine washable leather. Really, though, what makes them ‘bionic’ is the strategic padding and the fit of the glove. They keep your hands clean AND improve grip strength, reduce hand fatigue, and keep callouses at bay. Oh, and they make you look COOOL! If you want to weed all day, try the Extended Wear Bionic Gardening Gloves. Then you can come to my house and weed some more. 🙂

See All Gardening Gear.

So you see, with a little help you can garden at any age, with just about any disability. Get out there! But first, read this – Ready. . . Stretch . . . Garden!

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A few years ago I started waking up in the middle of the night with a numb thumb and index finger.  I thought I’d slept on my hand or something.  A few days later, I started feeling pain in my fingers during the day and my wrist ached most of the time.   We sell a lot of wrist wraps for carpal tunnel so I knew a little bit about it, but I wasn’t 100% sure that was what it was.   I did some research and what confirmed it was the fact that my little finger was never numb when I woke up, but my thumb and two of my fingers were.  That’s one of the characteristics of the symptoms, because the nerve that is pinched doesn’t extend into your pinkie finger.   Luckily the pain went away completely when I wore a specially designed wrist support for a few nights, and for a couple days while I was typing.  Now I just wear it when I start getting achy wrists, but it is very rare.

Where is the Carpal Tunnel?

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Bound by bones and ligaments, the carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway – about as big around as your thumb – on the palm side of your wrist.  It protects a main nerve (the Median Nerve) to your hand and nine tendons that bend your fingers.” 

Pressure placed on the median nerve produces the numbness, pain and eventually, hand weakness that characterize carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).

What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Anything that reduces the space for the median nerve, within the carpal tunnel, can cause pressure on the nerve.  While some research shows that carpal tunnel syndrome can result from repetitive use of the tendons in the hand, other possible causes range from rheumatoid arthritis to hormonal disorders (diabetes, thyroid, menopause), wrist injuries and fluid retention.  Or perhaps your carpal tunnel is just narrower than average.

Repetitive computer use is commonly assumed to cause CTS, but according to Mayo Clinic the scientific evidence for this association isn’t definitive.  However, you may be at a higher risk for carpal tunnel if your work or hobbies involve a combination of awkward, repetitive wrist or finger motions, forceful pinching or gripping and working with vibrating tools.  

Symptoms and Diagnosis of CTS

Your doctor can do a series of tests to determine whether you have CTS, but one diagnostic key is that the median nerve doesn’t reach the little finger, so if you wake up and your fingers are tingling and numb, but your pinkie isn’t, you might have carpal tunnel syndrome.  Another clue is ‘when’ you experience the symptoms.  Typically you might feel weakness, tingling or numbing while holding a phone or a newspaper, gripping a steering wheel or waking up during the night.  Mine starts with a general ache in my wrist.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Treatment

The good news is that most people can be effectively treated for CTS non-surgically with wrist splinting, non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroids (cortisone injections).   The wrist supports/splints/gloves designed for carpal tunnel relief prevent flexion of the wrist and holds it in a neutral position so you can’t squish the median nerve.  Our most popular wrist splint is the Smart Glove but there are many on the site to choose from.  We also have an area on the site where you can “Shop by Condition” for a variety of  Carpal Tunnel Products including wrist supports, hammers, tools and daily living aids.

If you can’t get relief non-surgically and you have symptoms for more than 6 months, your doctor may recommend surgery to cut the ligament pressing on the nerve.  From what I’ve seen and heard, this is not where you want to end up and I would have plenty of second opinions first.

If you have the symptoms of CTS, I suggest you get started on a conservative treatment right away.  Stop sleeping on your hands and wear a wrist splint at night.  If the pain persists, see your doc. 

Want to set up a healthy computing area?  Read “Top 10 Healthy Computing Products” for ideas.

I think I finally have my computing area set up so I can avoid the worst of the computer-related injuries even though I spend most of my life in front of a computer.  It’s all about the right chair, the perfect desk height, a curvy ergonomic keboard, a cushy wrist rest, etc. 

Here are a few of my favorite ergonomic computing products that will help you ease (or avoid) carpal tunnel pain, neck stiffness, lower back pain, fibromyalgia, eye strain and more.


1.  Wrist Cushion for Mouse – Anything with ergoBeads in it is good (just like anything with cream cheese in it is good).  Another one I like is the Non-Skid Mouse Pad because its..um… non-skid and it has ergo beads.  Either way, your wrist is completely supported – cool and comfortable all day.  If you need a smaller mouse cushion, check out our snazzy, colorful Le Petit Cushion – ooh la la.


2.   Non-Skid Wrist Cushion for Keyboard – Conforms to any keyboard and raises your wrists to the proper height to unblock your carpal tunnel.  Bonus: ergoBeads give you an all-day massage at no extra charge.


3.  Large Print KeyboardHaving problems seeing your keyboard?  Here’s your solution.  It is rated 20/300 on the Snellen Visual Acuity Scale with most others rated at only 20/70.  Whatever that means, I’ll bet you’ll see better with this one.  There’s also a Wireless Large Print Keyboard.


4.  Smart Glove –  Reversible to fit both left and right hands, this patented wrist wrap helps prevent and relieve wrist pain.  It was developed by an orthopedic hand surgeon for his patients.  Handy!  It’s flexible, moldable and breathable. I also like this inexpensive lightweight Computer Glove with ergoBeads.  It’s great for gaming or any kind of repetitive motion that can cause Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

4.  Ergo FootRests – Choose from two heights (go shorter if you’re shorter –  5’4″ or under).  Once you try it you’ll never go back to flat feet on the floor.  Fast relief for you lower back and thigh muscles. 


5.  Roho LTV All Purpose Seat Cushion – There will be no more sore butt with this customizable cushion.  Use it in the office, the car, on the tractor, in the bleachers or anywhere you cop a squat.  If you’ve never had a Roho, you’re in for a treat.  Weighs 1 pound.


6.    FitBALL Chair – Combines a 55 cm FitBALL with a rolling base.  Strengthen your core and improve your posture while working at your desk!  Neato.  I use mine while jamming on Guitar Hero.  The height and back rest are adjustable and it includes an air pump.  See All FitBall Products.


7.  3M Professional Anti-Glare Monitor Filter – Reduces glare by 95% and blocks 99.9% of radiation.  Comes in three sizes.  No more squinting.


8.  Monitor Stand – Monitor a pain in the neck?  Maybe you need to raise it up a few inches.  It should be at eye level.  Is it?


9.   Table Top Lamp – Daver can’t shut up about this lamp.  He’s in my office right now and I’m saying “shut up about that lamp!” but he won’t.  He loves it that much.  If our Director of Product Management, Daver Williams loves something that much, you can be sure you should own it.  He says the light is PERFECT for working in the office in daylight.  Whatever, Daver.  Let’s all buy one and see if he’s right. ‘k?


10.    Electric Foot Warmer Mat – I mean, c’mon, who doesn’t like to have warm tootsies while you’re working?  It’s got to be more healthy than having cold, wet feet.  The warming mat fits snuggly under your desk.  Waterproof.

 Pick up one of each and you’ll be covered.

Thanks for your business.  We wouldn’t mind a bit if you would refer us to your friends. 


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My parents used to tell great grandma to “stay out of the sugar!” whenever we left her house.  I wasn’t sure why they said it, but everyone got a kick out of it.  Great-grandma, I came to find out had ‘the sugar diabetes’ (pronounced dia-BEE-tuzz by my family) so she wasn’t allowed to eat a lot of sugar (horrors).  Anyhoo, years passed before I understood why.  It’s pretty confusing so I thought I’d do you a quick little lesson, in layman’s terms, on what diabetes is, and what the different types mean.

What is diabetes?

When you eat carbohydrates (mainly sugars and starches), your body digests the food and the glucose (sugar)  is sucked from your small intestine into your bloodstream.  The glucose goes into your bloodstream so it can be delivered to cells throughout your body.  The cells then convert the glucose to energy and you get to live a little longer.   

When the glucose enters your bloodstream, your blood sugar (aka blood glucose) levels rise, triggering the production and release of a hormone called insulin.  Insulin is made by beta cells scattered throughout your pancreas and, among other things, it tightly controls the level of sugar in your blood stream at any given time.  It does this by telling your muscle and fat cells to pull the glucose (sugar) from the blood into the cells, out of the bloodstream. 

It stands to reason, then, that if your body is unable to produce insulin, or can’t produce enough insulin, or can’t properly use the insulin, then you will have too much sugar in your blood and that’s a bad thing.   When you have elevated levels of glucose (sugar) in your blood you are said to have hyperglycemia or you are “hyperglycemic” (low blood sugar is hypoglycemia).   If the sugar in your blood tests out at consistently high or above average levels, then you are diagnosed with a certain type of diabetes.  Diabetes is a chronic disease meaning that once diagnosed it lasts a lifetime, although it can be controlled. 

What is Type 1 Diabetes?

You have type 1 diabetes (aka insulin dependent diabetes or juvenile onset diabetes) when your pancreas cannot produce insulin at all.  This happens when your body’s immune system malfunctions and mistakenly manufactures antibodies (proteins in the blood that are part of the immune system) that attack the beta cells in its own pancreas, rendering it incapable of producing insulin.  Any time your immune system attacks your own body tissues it is called an autoimmune disease.  That’s what type 1 diabetes is.  This tendency to produce abnormal antibodies is beleved to be, in part, genetic, although it is not fully understood.

Type 1 diabetes is the least common, and it is found primarily in young, lean people under the age of 30.  Screening for certain types of antibodies is encouraged for individuals who have a parent or sibling with type 1 diabetes. 

What is Type 2 Diabetes?

Of the people who have diabetes, 90% have type 2 and it occurs later in life.  It is sometimes called non-insulin dependent or adult onset diabetes and it is characterized by the fact that you can still produce insulin.  The problem is, you don’t produce enough, or your body doesn’t correctly use the insulin it produces.   Your body’s cells may be insulin resistant.   This is the primary problem in type 2 diabetes.  Insulin resistance is when your cells don’t respond normally to a given amount of insulin, meaning that higher levels of insulin are needed in order for insulin to have its effects.  In type 2 diabetes, there is also a steady decline of beta cells (they produce the insulin in the pancreas), which causes less insulin to be produced, thus contributing to worsening glucose control. 

How Insulin Resistance Leads to Type 2 Diabetes

Insulin resistance precedes type 2 diabetes, sometimes by years.  In fact, your blood glucose and insulin levels may be normal for years and then, bam! you become insulin resistant.  At this point, you will often see an association of high insulin levels, abdominal obesity, cholesterol issues and/or high blood pressure.  When you have all these issues, you have metabolic syndrome.  Insulin resistance has a strong genetic factor and can also be caused by some medications, but it is often seen in people who have metabolic syndrome, are obese, pregnant, severely ill, stressed or using steroids. 

Here’s how it works:  One of insulin’s jobs is to tell your muscle and fat cells to pull glucose from your blood so it can be used by the cell.  This is one way that insulin “controls” your blood sugar levels.  Insulin basically attaches itself to the surface of the fat and muscle cells, knocks on the cell’s door and says “okee dokee, open up”.  The cells hear the knock and says “come on in you beautiful sugar baby” (it lets the glucose in, thereby removing it from the blood stream).  Then the cell uses the glucose to provide energy to the body.  With insulin resistance, the muscles don’t even hear the knock and so the pancreas is notified to make more insulin, which increases the levels of insulin in the blood that causes a louder knock.  The resistance continues over time and as long as the pancreas can create enough insulin to open the cells doors, then you’re okay.  Once the pancreas can no longer keep up, the blood glucose levels begin to rise – at first only after meals when your glucose levels are highest but eventually when you’re fasting too.  At this point, you have type 2 diabetes.

How can you tell if you have diabetes?

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Diabetes is a very serious disease and any diabetes-like symptoms need immediate professional medical advice for diagnosis and treatment.  It is ultimately diagnosed by testing the amount of glucose (sugar) in your blood after fasting overnight for at least 8 hours.  It is easily determined with a single draw of blood which is analyzed by a lab, or it can be done in your doctor’s office using a glucose meter

Normal fasting blood glucose levels are less than 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl).  Fasting blood glucose levels of more than 126 mg/dl on two or more tests on different days indicates diabetes.  A blood glucose level of 200 mg/dl or higher, taken randomly at any time of day, also indicates diabetes. 

A fasting blood glucose level that stays above 100, but below 126 is known as impaired fasting glucose (IFG).  While these patients do not have the diagnosis of diabetes, it is important that it be addressed so that diabetes may be delayed or prevented.

The American Diabetes Assocation’s How to Tell if You Have Pre-Diabetes can give you more information and also can link you to a test to help you determine if you are at increased risk for diabetes or pre-diabetes.

Diabetes Symptoms:

Symptoms noticed by patients at the onset of diabetes range from no symptoms at all to extreme thirst, extreme fatigue, frequent urination, rapid weight loss, difficulty losing weight (common in the pre-diabetic stage), eye pain or blurry vision,  foot pain, dry mouth, dry skin, sweaty spells, weakness, hearing loss, ringing in the ears, bladder infections, tingling in the legs, gum disease,  vomiting/upset stomach, extreme hunger, headaches and dizziness. 

So you see, it can get quite difficult to diagnose this on your own. 

Unless you are familiar with how diabetes works, you may want to read What is Diabetes and the Difference Between Type 1 and Type 2? to help you digest the follwing information. 

An explanation of the most common symptoms:

High amounts of glucose in the urine causes frequent urination, which leads to dehydration.  Dehydration causes excessive thirst, so you drink more water, which adds to the frequency of urination…and so around it goes.

Insulin resistance, which often leads to diabetes, promotes fat storage because glucose cannot properly enter the cells to be used as energy.  The body keeps producing more insulin to try to get those cells to open up and since insulin is a hormone that likes to store fat, this can lead to weight gain, which leads to obesity, which worsens insulin resistance, which accelerates the development of Pre-Diabetes, which, left unchecked can lead to type 2 diabetes.  On the other hand, obesity can be what initiates the insulin resistance in the first place.  Another chicken/egg situation.  This diabetes is tricky stuff.

Diabetics experience weight loss, despite their increased appetite, when the body is no longer producing any, or not enough, insulin.  This lack of insulin keeps the sugar in your blood instead of letting it into the cells where it can be converted to energy.  If your blood sugar is very high, you urinate a lot and that causes weight loss, plus a muscle breakdown can occur, causing unhealthy weight loss.  Many patients find out they have diabetes when they have experienced unexplained weight loss.

Some untreated diabetes patients complain of nausea and vomiting.  The nausea and vomiting could be because of a condition called gastroparesis, which is caused by high blood sugars that can, over time, damage the vagus nerve which controls the movement of food through the digestive tract.  When this nerve is damaged, food moves slowly or stops moving through the digestive tract.  Nerve damage also leads to problems of the feet.

If fatigue is paired with any of the other classic diabetes symptoms, you need to schedule a diabetes screening test.  The reason diabetics experience fatigue is because their glucose is just floating around in their system instead of being  converted to energy.  Without enough insulin, the cells don’t allow the glucose in, so you feel drained all the time.  This fatigue can only be alleviated by returning the blood sugar to its normal levels.

Diabetics are prone to all kinds of infections, but women with diabetes, in particular, often notice frequent urinary tract infections.  According to an article on DiabetesInControl.com, women with diabetes are two to three times more likely to have bacteria in their bladdres than women without diabetes (not true for men).  Poor circulation in diabetics reduces the ability of infection-fighting white blood cells to get where they need to go.  When they get there, they are less likely to ingest the offending bacteria and kill them than normal white blood cells.  Many people with diabetes also have bladder dysfunctions that contract poorly, allowing urine to remain in static pools where bacteria can grow. 

Diabetics also have more skin problems and other infections that often lead to a diagnosis.  There are too many to list but if you’d like to read more, see the American Diabetes Assocation’s “Skin Complications” sections. 

And last but not least, an early symptom of eye problems relating to diabetes is blurred vision.  High blood sugar changes the shape and flexibility of the lens of the eye, distorting the ability to focus which causes blurred vision.  Other symptoms include double vision, cloudy vision, floating spots and curtain-like shadows in the eye. 

If you have any of these concerns, please see your doctor and get a simple blood test. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to some really hairy complications including high blood pressure, heart attacks and heart failure, blindness, kidney failure, coma, nerve damage and amputation.  Not to mention death.

The good news is, if diabetes is caught in its early stages, and it is still considered mild, your doctor may start treatment by having you drop excess body fat, lower your blood pressure and cholesterol through diet and exercise.  If your diabetes is more complicated, or at a more advanced stage, you will be treated with oral medications or insulin injections.