Are You at Risk?
Do you have two or more of these symptoms?
A family history of diabetes?
A sedentary life style?
Overweight or obese?
You are 40 years or older?
You are black, Hispanic,
Native American or Asian?
If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, you should seek medical assistance to be tested for diabetes.
Blurred road signs and frequent stops for the bathroom may be more than just signs of old age.
These symptoms along with irritability, extreme hunger or thirst, unusual weight loss or increased fatigue may indicate you are one of millions of Americans who have diabetes. (See “Are you at risk?” to identify other factors of diabetes.)
If so, your career as a truck driver could be in jeopardy. Federal law prohibits certain diabetics from driving interstate and can create paperwork hassles for others.
In diabetics, the body does not produce enough insulin or cannot properly use insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone that helps the body convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily activities. Unless treated, sufferers can be left with blood sugar that is too high, which leads to numerous complications and, ultimately, death.
According to the American Diabetes Association, the disease is typically classified in two categories. In Type 1 (also called juvenile onset) diabetes, individuals are dependent on insulin, injecting it before meals and when blood sugars are out of a normal range. In Type 2 diabetes (also called adult onset), which accounts for more than 90 percent of cases and usually develops in older adults, sufferers often produce some insulin but not enough, and the body struggles to use what is produced.
Although drivers with Type 2 diabetes are able to continue driving as long as they keep control of their blood sugar, many Type 2 diabetics progress to Type 1, putting their careers on the line.
Drivers who are dependent on insulin cannot operate commercial motor vehicles in interstate trucking unless they meet rigorous standards set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
The federal government established the current standard for diabetes in 1970. The rule targeted Type 1 diabetics because poor regulation of insulin injections can lead to an individual becoming drowsy, passing out, suffering a seizure or falling into a diabetic coma.
After several false starts, the FMCSA has finally approved an exemption process to reinstate drivers who become insulin dependent. But the process is complicated, and few drivers will meet the numerous qualifications.
While career issues should be reason enough for drivers at risk to receive a checkup, there are bigger reasons, namely overall health. If your diabetes is not treated properly, you will have increased risk of stroke, heart attack, kidney damage, eye problems that could lead to blindness and nerve damage. The cause of diabetes is unknown, but obesity, lack of exercise and genetic factors play a major role. According to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, having diabetes also contributes to high cholesterol, which can lead to chest pains or a heart attack.
For many would-be diabetics and those who are diagnosed, an ounce of prevention goes a long way. According to the American Diabetes Association, two ways of helping prevent diabetes are regular exercise and nutritious food choices.
Physical activity helps lower your blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure and lowers your risk of contracting other diseases. It also helps your insulin work better, keeps your joints flexible and improves your blood circulation.
“Exercise is the best thing in the world to bring the sugar level down,” says Betsy Kimball, a Mail Contractors of America driver who was recently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Kimball has been driving since 1985.
“I’m getting close to being 40 years old and ready to make some physical changes in my life,” she says. “Making these changes should free me from a life dependent on medication.”
Proper nutrition also helps. A diet rich in simple carbohydrates like sugar can contribute to diabetes. Your body needs a more balanced diet, rich in protein, complex carbohydrates like fruits and starches, and fiber, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Even if you already have Type 2 diabetes, exercise and a proper diet will help you live with the disease and are part of the regimen recommended by doctors. But if these methods don’t get your diabetes under control, you may need insulin injections or oral medication. Your doctor will help you determine the best application for your specific needs.