Keeping their blood sugar levels in a normal range is one of the most important things someone with diabetes can do for their health. But with COVID-19 disrupting routines and health care visits and leading to higher levels of stress, that’s been hard to do. NHRMC’s primary care offices have seen a sharp increase in patients’ blood sugar levels over the past year.
A1C levels show a patient’s average blood sugar levels over the past three months. It’s the most important number for people with diabetes to know, said Charin Hanlon, MD, because it’s directly tied to the long-term complications that can harm those living with diabetes. Higher A1C levels are directly linked to diabetes complications, such as kidney, heart, and eye disease.
NHRMC’s patients in their 30s and 40s have had the highest increase in their A1C levels, Dr. Hanlon said, noting that this group may have seen the biggest changes to their lives because of COVID-19 – including having to work from home, losing their job completely, or taking on more child care duties, including homeschooling.
Dr. Hanlon suspected there are multiple reasons why A1C levels have gone up over the past year:
- Because of COVID-19, some patients have not had their blood work checked for 12 to 18 months. Even though NHRMC was able to move to virtual care for many patients with diabetes, not everyone has the reliable and private Internet access that virtual care requires.
- COVID-19 has also disrupted many patterns and routines, especially around exercise and food, and led to increased stress for many people. “We are moving differently, eating differently, interacting differently, and that is a contributing factor,” Dr. Hanlon said.
- Some patients stopped taking their medication, either because they could no longer afford it or because they weren’t prioritizing that part of their routine, Dr. Hanlon said.
If your A1C levels have gone up, there are ways to get back on track. Dr. Hanlon recommended patients meet with a diabetes educator to reset their goals. Patients can come to in-person appointments, but it also works well virtually, Dr. Hanlon said: Patients can open their refrigerator, show the diabetes educator the foods they’re eating, and get help understanding the labels. Learn more about NHRMC’s diabetes education programs (DEEP) by visiting NHRMC.org/services/diabetes/diabetes-education.
Dr. Hanlon has three additional tips that patients can do immediately to get back to healthier habits:
- Consider the beverages you drink regularly. If a drink is very sugary, what can you drink that has less sugar?
- Make sure you know what a carbohydrate is and what foods have carbohydrates (it’s not just pasta, Dr. Hanlon said). Once you’ve learned that, aim to fill no more than one-third of your plate with carbohydrates.
- Make sure you’re getting exercise. Even walking can help lower your blood sugar level.
Diabetes can often feel like it’s out of a patient’s control, Dr. Hanlon said. But that’s not the case.
“With the right attention and care, this is really a disease that’s controllable and a disease that we can change,” she said. “Making small changes like these can change an entire family’s diabetes trajectory.”
NHRMC is committed to reducing the incidence and impact of diabetes in our community. Read more about our initiatives by visiting NHRMC.org/blog/2020/08/diabetes-moonshot.