The Role of Nurses in Diabetes

They call it the silent killer – diabetes may not seem to be fatal, but it causes a host of complications and puts you at risk for various other diseases, and this makes it a lethal disease. Most people are not aware of the consequences of diabetes, and very often, it’s too late for them to prevent ill-health and disease from becoming a part of their everyday life. But with the right amount of awareness and education about diabetes, it’s easy to prevent this disease if you are prone to it, and manage it if you’ve already got it.

Nurses play a large role in helping people become more aware of the dangers of diabetes and in educating them about the lifestyle changes they need to make in order to prevent or manage this disease. Care for diabetes starts at the primary care level – so nurses who are involved in providing primary care are most often responsible for education patients about diabetes and in helping physicians treat their disease.

Some advanced practice nurses have more autonomy in dealing with diabetics – Nurse Practitioners are qualified to provide primary care, perform diagnoses and prescribe medications, like a primary care physician would, and Diabetes Specialist nurses work primarily with diabetic patients and help them to manage their disease so that they avoid further complications and minimize the risks associated with it.

In general however, nurses play a key role in diabetics by helping to:

  • Create awareness and educate: Nurses help in preventive healthcare by talking to patients about diabetes and making them aware of the existence of this disease. They identify those at a high risk – obese people, those with a familial history of diabetes, and those who lead sedentary lifestyles – and educate them about the disease. They are involved in getting them to lead a more active lifestyle with regular exercise, follow a healthy diet, and reduce weight and keep it down. Among the biggest risks of diabetes is heart disease, and nurses must educate patients and those at risk about this complication and teach them how to take care of their health so they don’t succumb to a heart attack.
  • Treat/aid in treatment: Nurses help doctors treat diabetic patients by monitoring their blood sugar regularly, ensuring that they take their medication as prescribed, give them injections if needed, and provide care if they are hospitalized for related complications.
  • Manage: Diabetics must manage this disease with regular exercise (a walk every day should do), a healthy diet that includes nutritious, small and wholesome meals spaced out at least 6 times a day, and medication in the prescribed dosage at the prescribed times. Some diabetics must be injected with insulin if their blood-sugar levels refuse to drop even after medication, and Type I diabetic patients require long term care with insulin to keep their symptoms down.
  • Maintain quality of life: Patients must accept responsibility for their care if they wish to maintain their quality of life, and nurses must help them do what’s best for them. In general, following strict instructions like regular exercise, healthy diet and lifestyle changes (no smoking or alcohol in large amounts) will help maintain the quality of life of diabetics and help them both alleviate symptoms and keep complications at bay.
  • Slow progression of complications: Acute complications include hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia, while long term complications include retinopathy, cataracts, nephropathy, coronary heart disease, neuropathy and peripheral vascular disease.

Nurses in primary care can help bring down the incidence of diabetes with proper awareness and education and also help those affected manage the disease and maintain quality of life with drugs, exercise and a healthy diet.