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An Endocrinologist Explains Diabetes

So You Can Take Charge of Your Health

I always aim to empower my patients to take charge of their own health. Whether or not I am starting a patient on medication, I always recommend exercise.

- Dr. Erjola Balliu

Were you or a loved one recently diagnosed with Diabetes? Are you feeling overwhelmed, unsure, or confused about how to handle the daily impacts of this condition? Our providers at Lakeland Regional Health here to care for you during each stage of any diagnosis. Patients facing a prediabetes diagnosis have multiple resources available, including our Diabetes Prevention Program. But, what about patients who are already living with diabetes?

We sat down with Lakeland Regional Health’s Dr. Erjola Balliu, who specializes in endocrinology for both adults and children, to learn more about this often-misunderstood condition and how it impacts daily life for those who are experiencing it.



Q: What is diabetes?

Dr. Balliu: Diabetes is an autoimmune condition. This means that the people who are affected by it make antibodies that destroy the insulin that is secreted from their pancreas. This affects the levels of insulin in their blood, which can then trigger multiple types of conditions within the body (referred to as comorbidities).

 

Q: What is insulin, and why is it important?

Dr. Balliu: Insulin is a hormone that regulates your blood sugar. When blood sugar is stable, it can more easily attach to red blood cells like it’s supposed to, pick up the sugar, and bind to the receptors of the muscles and liver. This allows your body to process it properly.

However, blood sugar that is too high (due to conditions like diabetes) can affect the circulation of these blood cells, affecting their ability to do what they are supposed to do. Without this proper circulation, the likelihood of blood clots, strokes, heart attacks, and kidney damage increases significantly.

 

Q: What are the different types of diabetes?

Dr. Balliu:

  • Type 1 Diabetes is a genetically inherited form of diabetes that can be colloquially referred to as “juvenile diabetes.” However, the age of onset is different for everyone. The trigger for the condition isn’t always clear, but when about 80 percent of the cells of the pancreas are destroyed, symptoms can begin. These include a marked increase in thirst and urination, plus unexplained/unintentional weight loss. Unfortunately Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented, but many resources are available for its proper management, allowing patients to live their lives to the fullest.
  • Type 2 Diabetes, which unlike Type 1, can often be prevented. While some genetic factors may predispose some people to its development, heredity cannot be considered the sole cause. Type 2 is caused by insulin resistance that develops based on a person’s lifestyle choices. These can include lack of exercise and a diet high in sugars. In this circumstance, your body is producing insulin, but it can’t use it properly. It’s important to note that not all patients with Type 2 diabetes are medically obese, but remember that obesity is often one of the most significant contributing factors in the development of the condition.

Q: Can Type 2 Diabetes be reversed?

Dr. Balliu: While there is no real “cure” for Type 2 Diabetes, remission is possible. After someone is diagnosed, if they decide to watch their diet and manage their weight, the effects of this condition can most certainly be reversed.

I encourage my patients with prediabetes and Type 2 Diabetes to make good lifestyle choices such as:

  • Exercising
  • Eating Healthy
  • Maintaining their ideal body weight

The ideal body weight means the patient’s body mass index (BMI) is in a healthy range. BMI is different for each person and is based on factors such as height and gender, as well as genetic factors such as race or ethnicity.

 

Q: What does an endocrinologist do?

Dr. Balliu: I treat patients who are experiencing disorders of the endocrine system — which is comprised of the glands and organs that make hormones. Issues with the endocrine system can not only lead to conditions like diabetes but also infertility or problems with the thyroid, adrenal, and pituitary glands.

 

Q: What is your patient philosophy?

Dr. Balliu: I always aim to empower my patients to take charge of their own health. Whether or not I am starting a patient on medication, I always recommend exercise. In most cases, we will begin by recommending:

  • 3 months of eating fewer carbs and less sugar
  • Consume a lower number of calories
  • Reduce portion sizes.
  • 150 minutes of exercise per week
  • Increase water intake

Patients who do need medication may not need to stay on it if they are determined to change their lifestyle. In fact, many of them have successfully gotten to a point where they can manage their Type 2 Diabetes without medications or insulin (or can reduce their dose of insulin). I make sure that they know that they do have the potential to get off of it.

 

Q: Why do you enjoy working at LRH and with the Lakeland population?

Dr. Balliu: Endocrinology is a very rewarding profession because I love seeing my patients get better and feel better. The Lakeland and Polk County areas have a higher population of people who are at higher risk from complications from diabetes, so it feels great to be a resource that can really help bring about healthier outcomes for the people of this community.

 

Q: What do you wish more people knew about diabetes?

Dr. Balliu: Eating in moderation is the key to success. You can’t just cut down on carbs but then eat large portions of high-calorie foods like meat and expect results. Instead, carefully reducing the portion sizes of food can make a huge impact on overall health as well as the effects of diabetes.

 

Ready to Learn More?

Book with your Primary Care Provider today to determine the best plan for your health. We also offer support groups for patients living with a variety of conditions, including those in the pre-diabetic range who are ready to work toward minimizing their risk factors as well as people who are managing diabetes.

Learn more about Dr. Erjola Balliu.

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