A focus on living with diabetes

Nov, 2017

Tuesday, 14 November is World Diabetes Day, the world’s largest diabetes awareness campaign aimed a reaching a global audience of over 1 billion people in more than 160 countries. In New Zealand, World Diabetes Day will also coincide with Diabetes Awareness Week, which runs from 12 to 18 November.

Why all this extra attention on diabetes this month? Diabetes is a serious problem all over the world, but especially here in New Zealand. In fact, diabetes is New Zealand’s fastest-growing health crisis. Our diabetes statistics are startling for a country with such a relatively small population. Did you know that diabetes affects as many as a quarter of a million Kiwis? To make matters worse, the problem is growing at an alarming rate, with around 1 million Kiwis suspected of having prediabetes and 40 new diabetes diagnoses happening every day.

What is diabetes?

Our bodies break down most of what we eat into glucose, a type of sugar that is released into our bloodstreams, from where it’s absorbed by our cells as their main source of energy. However, our cells need insulin, a hormone that is produced in the pancreas, to be able to take up the glucose they need from the bloodstream.

A person with diabetes, also known as a diabetic, is someone with too much glucose in their blood because their pancreas either doesn’t produce any insulin or not enough insulin, or because their cells aren’t responding properly to the insulin their pancreas produces.
So, although there is plenty of glucose in their blood, their cells are not able to take up the glucose they need. Eventually the excess blood glucose will pass out of the body in the urine. Before it does, however, their level of blood glucose will have built up to an unhealthy level, causing damage to their body and even leading to the possible failure of various organs and tissues.

The 3 types of diabetes

There are three main types of diabetes, namely Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes or diabetes in pregnancy.

1. Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented or cured – and before the discovery of insulin, Type 1 diabetes was fatal. Type 1 diabetes is usually caused by an auto-immune disease where the body’s immune system attacks and destroys its own insulin-producing cells. Approximately 10% of people with diabetes have Type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes usually develops in children or young adults, who will then need daily injections of insulin for the rest of their lives to control their blood glucose levels. To manage their diabetes they will also have to constantly balance their insulin injections with a good diet and plenty of exercise.

2. Type 2 diabetes is where the body does not produce enough insulin for proper function, or the body’s cells have developed a resistance to the insulin produced by the body. Approximately 90% of people with diabetes have Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes can occur at any age and it can remain undetected for many years, often only diagnosed during a routine blood test or as a result of a check-up in response to a health issue resulting from a complication of having the disease. At first, people with Type 2 diabetes can often manage their condition by eating healthy, losing weight, doing plenty of exercise and keeping an eye on their blood glucose levels. However, Type 2 diabetes tends to be a progressive disease so it will gradually get worse over time, and the person will probably need to start taking insulin at some point.

3. Gestational diabetes or diabetes in pregnancy happens when a pregnant woman develops high levels of blood glucose as a result of her pregnancy. Although gestational diabetes usually goes away after the baby is born, a woman who developed gestational diabetes has an increased risk to later developing Type 2 diabetes.

What’s prediabetes?

A person who has prediabetes is someone whose blood glucose level is higher than normal, but not yet high enough for them to be diagnosed as a Type 2 diabetic. The vast majority of people with Type 2 diabetes initially had prediabetes.

In New Zealand as many as 1 in 4 Kiwis over the age of 15 are believed to have prediabetes. That’s more than a million people who are on the verge of becoming Type 2 diabetics! However, in many cases, these same people could delay or even prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes simply by pursuing a more healthy lifestyle by losing weight, changing their diet in favour of more nutritional food and doing regular exercise.

Who can get diabetes?

Anyone can get diabetes. However, the following people are more at risk of developing diabetes than others. So the question you need to ask yourself is, “Do I fall into any of these groups?”

• People of Europeans descent, aged 40 years or older
• People of Maori, Asian, Middle Eastern or Pacific Island descent, aged 30 years or older
• People with a family history of diabetes – grandparents, parents, brothers or sisters
• People with high blood pressure
• People who are overweight, especially those with a lot of weight around their stomach area
• People who have been diagnosed as having Impaired Glucose Tolerance (IGT)

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

Some of the more classic diabetes symptoms include:
• Frequent urination
• Thirst
• Hunger and fatigue/feeling of weakness
• Dehydration, with tell-tale signs such as dry mouth and itchy skin
• Blurred vision
• Yeast infections
• Slow-healing sores or cuts
• Pain, numbness or tingling in the hands, legs or feet
• Unexplained weight loss
• Stomach ache, nausea or vomiting
• A breath that smells sweet, like acetone

What are the effects of diabetes?

A person whose body is unable to control the level of glucose in their blood and keep it within a safe range is at significantly higher risk of developing a wide range of serious health complications, ranging from gum, skin, eye, kidney and heart disease, to circulatory problems, hearing loss, mental disorders, stroke, nerve damage and erectile dysfunction, and many other health problems.

Diabetics are also much more susceptible to infections, and cuts and wounds take much longer to heal than in the case of a non-diabetic person.

How to find out if you have diabetes?

If you have any symptoms of diabetes or you fall into any of the more-at-risk groups, it’s important to see your doctor. Getting a prompt diagnosis and being able to manage the disease appropriately will lower the likelihood of you developing the serious health complications associated with diabetes.

To find out more about diabetes and get an expert medical assessment of your symptoms, simply call 09 522 2800 to book an appointment with your GP at OneHealth, who has experience in the diagnosis and long-term management of diabetes.

Disclaimer: This news update is purely informative and should not be taken as medical advice, a diagnosis or treatment.