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Attack of the Killer Medicine!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

I've always believed in traditional medicine. When I was 7, I had my first case of pneumonia, followed by 3 more, plus innumerable bouts of bronchitis. Antibiotics saved my life more than once; if the lung problems had not done me in, my appendicitis at age 18 probably would have. So, I've usually trusted doctors, nurses, and medications.
Now, if you're familiar with respiratory illness, you exclaimed, right after reading the first paragraph: "Asthma!" Exactly. Back when I was growing up, only the kids who passed out in the gym were diagnosed with asthma, but I had the classic symptoms of intermittent asthma, triggered by minor colds. A little inhaler puff here and there would have saved me a lot of trouble.
When I was an adult, I was finally treated for asthma with Singulair, Advair, and the occasional rescue inhaler use. All was well, and I did not get sick that often. When I did get a bad attack, the allergist put me on prednisone, a steroid, for a week, which kept me up all night, but gave me lots of energy to clean house, so I did not mind the side effects. I received an informational page about the medicine, which said that in some cases, with patients who take it for an extended period of time and who have family history, the medicine can trigger diabetes. No problem; I had no family history of the disease, and I only took the medication for a week or two a few times a year, so this did not apply to me.
A few years later, my allergist ordered routine blood tests, and my sugar was 384. My doctor patted me on the shoulder and told me to go to my primary physician, or better yet, to the ER. That got my attention, so I drove home, parked the car, and walked across the street to the hospital, where I got admitted. When I said "blood sugar" and "prednisone", the nurses nodded knowingly. After an IV and a shot of insulin, my sugar went down, and I felt so much cooler; I had been hot all the time for a while and had no idea that had been another side effect of the high sugars.
The doctor told me that it would take a few weeks for the prednisone to leave my system, so she put me on insulin, gave me a blood sugar meter, and told me to drink lots of water. I had the luxury of something most people don't have: I had a month to be in realistic denial. I could seriously tell myself that while I might have diabetes, it was more likely that this was a temporary issue. So I had some time to get used to the idea.
Problem was, my sugars kept bouncing back up, and a few months later, I was finally diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. In the meantime, I had talked to my parents about the incident, and my mom told me she had been diagnosed with Type 2, and so had my paternal grandmother - they just didn't tell me, because they didn't want to worry me! I had it on both sides of the family! If I had known that I had family history, I would have never taken the steroids! The doctor told me that, given my history, I would have probably gotten diabetes in another decade or two, but the steroids triggered it off early. I was so angry I could have thrown things - at my family for not telling me, and at my allergist for prescribing me the stuff.
Getting used to the diabetes itself was not even that bad; I had worked with several Type 1 diabetics before and was familiar with blood sugar ranges, symptoms, meters, insulin, etc. Besides, once you've worked with a 7 year old who has had Type 1 since he was a baby, you know you can't complain if you get Type 2 as an adult; at least I was able to eat what I wanted for decades. My anger came from not knowing - not knowing about family history, and not knowing about the side effects from infrequent use.
The morals of the story:
1. Always, always, check the side effects of any medicines they put you on, and don't assume you are low risk.
2. Even if you know both sides of your biological family, don't assume that you know your medical history; ask questions of the most talkative family members until you get enough information.
3. Get regular blood tests to get alerts on problems you may not be aware of; if there is a free screening at the drug store, go. I must have walked right past dozens of free diabetes screenings, thinking it would be a waste of my time and their resources to get tested.
Wishing all of you good health!

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Being a nurse I know that prednisone can trigger diabetes but it does sometimes raise blood sugar levels even without a history of diabetes or pre-diabetes. So can Total Parental Nutrition, an IV administered high caloric nutritional subsitute for those who cannot eat while in the hospital. My mother had an acute attack of pancreatitis when a gallstone went through the head of her pancreas and she was on it for aobut two months while in hospital. Her blood sugars were up in the 300s and she received insulin but once the TPN was discontinued her blood sugars returned to normal range. There are so many medications that can cause side effects. Your advice is so right and so helpful!!
    1946 days ago
    Diabetes is one disease that YOU have a lot of control over. And now you know to keep your glucose/sugar numbers in check. emoticon

    I had never heard that Prednisone /Diabetes connection. But I was on Prednisone for years...
    1946 days ago
    I hate prednisone! I have been put on it a few times (for short periods) and I don't like taking it because of potential side-effects. I did not know that it could trigger Diabetes though.

    I am sure that your family had good intentions with not wanting to worry you but in a case like this, knowing your family's medical history was very important. I am glad that this was discovered before it was too late to help you. Hopefully you can control it well. I also have type 2 diabetes and take meds for it. I am hoping to eventually get off the meds and be able to control it through diet and fitness.

    1946 days ago
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