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Medicine Shoppe pharmacist Randy Howden spends time with each diabetes patient who needs it.

In 2016, seven per cent of Canadians aged 12 and older (roughly 2.1 million people) reported being diagnosed with diabetes. The diseases has seen a marked rise in Canada over the past quarter-century. Inside of a decade, between 15 and 25 per cent of Canadians will either get diagnosed with the disease or be at risk of developing it. With numbers like that, the odds are that diabetes will have an effect on your life or the life of a loved one. There is good news though: advances in diabetes management can help keep the disease in check.

Randy Howden, a pharmacist-owner of a Medicine Shoppe pharmacy in northwest Calgary, has been working closely with patients living with diabetes for the past decade. In his practice, he is used to seeing diabetes disproportionately affect older Canadians, particularly those who are overweight, lead a sedentary lifestyle and have a poor diet. But in recent years, he has seen diabetes is also starting to show up more and more in children.

"Previously we saw very few young people with Type 2 diabetes and now we're seeing more and more," Howden says. "We're starting to see it in overweight, inactive children (with poor eating habits)."

Pharmacists are part of the diabetes management team

Howden notes that, while diabetes has no cure, it can be effectively managed. He and a number of other Medicine Shoppe pharmacist-owners have obtained Certified Diabetes Educator Certificates in order to better work with their patients living with the disease.

With the Canadian healthcare system stretched thin, pharmacists can step in to become an effective member of a patient's healthcare team, working closely not only with the patient but physicians in the area as well. Howden says that doctors refer patients to him so he can take the time to sit with them and teach them about their condition. This collaborative relationship "is really, really helpful," he says. "We've got a patient, we've got a physician, we've got a pharmacist and other aspects of the care team all working together to provide the best care."

At his Medicine Shoppe pharmacy, he says, "I do motivational interviewing," he continues. "So I talk to patients and try to help them find that motivation and the reasons why they would make those lifestyle changes. I've provided some seminars at my store where patients can come in for free and sit down and talk to other people with diabetes and we can discuss topics such as diet and lifestyle. And I can talk to them about what the recommendations are."

‘I talk to patients and try to help them find that motivation and the reasons why they would make those lifestyle changes.’

Randy Howden – Medicine Shoppe pharmacist - owner in Calgary, Alberta

Patient care can change a person's life

By working with his patients on an ongoing basis, Howden has seen many of them manage the disease effectively and improve their quality of life.

One patient, he says, came to his pharmacy looking for help. She was significantly overweight and was beginning to have vision issues – a common symptom of diabetes. She had also quit her job and was housebound much of the time.

Over two years of regular consultations with Howden – from diet planning to a physical exercise regimen to regular monitoring of her medications – the patient lost nearly 70 pounds, has blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels within a normal range and leads a more active and engaged lifestyle.

"To me," Howden says, "just seeing the change in her life, the change in the way she's able to get around and move around, her extra vitality in life is just so inspiring." He credits Medicine Shoppe's patient-first ethos for helping him create the diabetes care he now provides.

"We're going above and beyond to try to provide information to our patients to help them improve their health. It's not just dispensing medication, it's beyond medication. That's a piece of what we do as pharmacists, but we do so much more than that."

Wondering if you or a loved one might have diabetes?

Diabetes has some clear warning signs. Here are some major ones to watch for.

  • Increased thirst and frequent urination

    A person with diabetes has excess sugar in their bloodstream. If their kidneys are unable to filter and absorb this excess sugar, it will be excreted in the urine. As the frequency of urination increases, so does the need to replenish fluids.

  • Tiredness

    High blood sugar can thicken your blood, slowing circulation. This results in reduced oxygen getting to your cells, causing fatigue.

  • Blurred vision

    Blurred vision is one of the most common warning signs of diabetes. High levels of blood sugar can cause swelling of the lens inside the eye, resulting in a decrease in the clarity of vision.

  • Numbness or tingling in extremities

    High blood sugar can, over time, damage nerve endings in the body, particularly in hands and feet. This can result in numbness or a tingling sensation in your limbs.

If you are regularly experiencing any of these symptoms, you should consult a healthcare professional as soon as possible.

This content was produced by The Globe and Mail's Globe Edge Content Studio. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.

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