Syringes on a white background with dice spelling out "diabetes type 2".

News, Primary Care | one year ago

A Trip to Urgent Care Leads to a Diabetes Diagnosis

The diagnosis scared him. To improve his health, an Atrium Health patient worked with his primary care doctor on a health improvement journey.

Marlon Wilkerson was extremely thirsty, his mouth felt dry and he was using the bathroom more often than normal. That was concerning enough. But he also had unexpected weight loss and vision problems. 

“I was 46 years old. I had no energy and felt drained for weeks,” Marlon says. “I thought maybe I had come down with something, so I was taking pain relievers to feel better.” 

With persistent symptoms, he went to Atrium Health Urgent Care Indian Trail where tests showed Marlon had dangerously high blood sugar or hyperglycemia. Blood sugar levels of 300 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) or more can be dangerous. Marlon’s levels were 475 mg/dL.

“I was told I needed to get to the emergency room,” Marlon recalls. “We needed to get my blood sugar levels down. After I was released, I was told to follow up with my primary care doctor, but I didn’t have one because I had recently relocated to North Carolina. So, I picked one and got an appointment right away.”

The Diagnosis

Marlon chose Dr. Taisiya Netrebko at Atrium Health Primary Care Dove Internal Medicine.

“The A1c test is a simple blood test that measures average blood sugar levels to diagnose prediabetes, Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes or to determine how well a patient is doing with diabetes management,” Netrebko says. “When I tested Marlon, his result was high -- more than 14%.”

The generally accepted target range for A1c worldwide is between 4 to 6%. 

  • Under 5.7% is normal
  • 5.7% to 6.4% indicates prediabetes
  • Over 6.5% is high

Marlon was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. 

Type 1 and Type 2 

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition where cells in the pancreas that produce insulin are destroyed and stop producing insulin. It cannot be prevented or reversed and is thought to be caused by genetics or viruses. 

With Type 2 diabetes, your pancreas is still producing normal amounts of insulin, but your cells do not respond normally to the production process. Type 2 diabetes can be prevented as it is often the result of being overweight or obese, eating a poor diet and being sedentary. Many people who change their eating habits, lose weight, exercise regularly and take their medication can eliminate symptoms and keep their blood sugar in a normal range. In some cases, diet alone can help people get their blood sugar levels to a point they can stop taking medication altogether. 

Symptoms and Treatment 

Marlon suffered textbook diabetes symptoms, such as frequent urination, increased thirst, fatigue, weight loss and blurred vision. Other diabetes symptoms include irritability and other mood changes, extreme hunger and cuts and bruises that are slow to heal. However, Type 2 diabetes can be subtle. Some people have no symptoms and Type 2 diabetes isn't detected until blood or urine tests are done.

Netrebko says, “Since diabetes starts and progresses gradually, patients may not have any symptoms at all and the diagnosis is discovered accidentally when blood work is done. There are no medications that can cure diabetes, but there are medications that can help control it, including oral and injectable antihyperglycemic medications and insulin.” 

No Magic Pill

Patients like Marlon have to pay close attention to their diet because certain foods can cause blood sugar levels to fluctuate dangerously. Getting the recommended amount of exercise is also important for controlling weight and regulating blood sugar levels.

“I was surprised! Neither of my parents has it, just my grandmother,” Marlon says. “I was nervous about the diagnosis, and it was definitely a wake-up call. I have since changed the way I do things.” 

Those things include eating more fruits and vegetables and exercising five days a week. Marlon also incorporates three-to-five-mile walks as part of his new routine. 

“If you don't take care of yourself, you can end up with pretty bad outcomes,” Netrebko says. “The risk of developing complications from diabetes affects your whole body. You can increase your risk of getting heart disease, heart attack and stroke. You can have eye problems, blindness or kidney damage. And, while on dialysis, there is the risk for infections or toe amputations. People want a magic pill. Sometimes patients just want to have some magic solution, which unfortunately we don't have.”

It’s been two years since Marlon’s diagnosis and right now, he’s managing his Type 2 diabetes. But he knows it doesn’t mean he’s cured. 

“I was overweight. But since the diagnosis, I’ve lost 40 pounds and I’ve cut back on sugary drinks. In fact, I had to buy new clothes and I had some altered. I feel so much better and have been able to reduce my medicine from five pills a day to two. And I still see Dr. Netrebko every six months for a check-up.”

Partner with an Atrium Health family medicine or internal medicine provider to keep up with your health needs. Through prevention, diagnosis and treatment, they work with you to help you live your healthiest life. Call 24/7 at 1-844-235-6997 or make an appointment online.