Controlling your blood sugar level

2009-11-11 00:00

BLOOD sugar levels should ideally be controlled at between four and eight millimoles (mmol) per litre (mmol/l is the unit measurement for blood sugar levels). This is important to prevent the complications of diabetes, which can happen when the blood sugar levels­ go too high or too low.

Low blood sugar is called hypo-glycaemia and is characterised by shaking, sweating, nausea and palpitations­. Low blood sugar is dangerous­ and can be a medical emergency if it drops too low. It is therefore important­ to test your blood sugar, so that you can stop it from going­ too low.

If blood sugar drops below four mmol, the best thing to do is to have something sweet such as half a glass of Coca­-Cola or Liquifruit to drink, and follow it with a healthy snack. It is also important to check the blood sugar level hourly to make sure that it has improved, but that it has not gone too high.

High blood sugar is also dangerous, but does damage slowly. If your blood sugar is consistently over eight mmol per litre­, it damages all the nerve endings of the body. This can cause permanent irreversible damage to the eyes, the kidneys, the heart and the circulation  which   affects,   particu-larly,­ the feet and the feeling in the feet.

If blood sugar levels are kept normal, or as close to normal as possible, this damage is restricted, and the diabetic person can enjoy a full and fulfilled life, as would any person without diabetes­.

High blood sugar also causes problems­ with infections — they tend to linger on. Wounds in a person with high sugar levels heal more slowly, and are more susceptible to infection, which can result in hospitalisation and permanent damage, or in severe cases, amputations.

Having diabetes is a bit like being on a roller coaster, with the sugar levels going up and down, and they can be very difficult to control.

However, it is also a condition that, if managed with a positive attitude from all concerned, including the person with diabetes can have positive outcomes.

There may never be a cure, but there can still be a great quality of life.

Harry's Story

HARRY was at home one evening. He had just finished a take-away supper and he was relaxing in front of the television with a cup of coffee. He was chatting to his wife about the movie that they were watching and enjoying having a quiet evening.

Suddenly Harry realised that he was not feeling so well. He was breathless and had broken out in a light sweat. He felt as though he had a band tightening over his chest.

At first he thought it was just indigestion from the fatty supper which he had eaten, but when he felt no better after about half an hour, he phoned his doctor.

He was asked to go into the emergency room as soon as possible. Once there he was given an ECG to check his heart functioning. The casualty doctor looked at the results and put him straight into intensive care.

Over the next couple of hours, Harry was subjected to many more tests and investigations. He was then transferred to a cardiac unit in Durban where a heart bypass was done.

One of the tests that was done was Harry’s blood sugar, which the doctors discovered was high. He was also then diagnosed as diabetic.

Harry was discharged from hospital a couple of hours later, now a heart patient and a newly diagnosed diabetic. This is a big pill for any person to swallow, and Harry initially struggled with his new conditions, as he recovered from his heart surgery. No one can be sure whether Harry was already diabetic when he had the heart attack, or whether the stress of the heart attack triggered the diabetes.

Either way it does not really matter. What matters is that Harry is not only diabetic, but he has the added complication of a heart condition.

How did Harry cope with these changes in his health?

Harry’s doctor put him on medication to control his cholesterol levels and his diabetes. He then referred him to a dietician for further dietary advice, and then to a diabetes educator to teach him about his diabetes and how to manage his lifestyle to control his cholesterol and diabetes.

Harry started testing his blood sugar regularly, and using the information from these tests to manage his diet and therefore his blood sugar. He also joined a gym and was conscientious about his attendance, exercising for an hour at least three times a week.

Within a period of three months, Harry brought his weight down by seven kilograms and he has managed to get his cholesterol and blood sugar under control.

Harry accepted his condition with a positive attitude. He made the changes and he is thrilled by his progress, as are his doctors. Because he feels so much better and healthier, Harry is resolved to maintain his new healthy way of life.

Often someone who is diabetic is also diagnosed with other conditions, which become complications if not managed. It is important that all aspects of a person’s health are managed to preserve quality of life and to prevent what can be damaging complications, which, if allowed to occur, can permanently impair a person.

Examples of these include permanent kidney damage, or damage to the eyes.

It is also important to note that diabetic damage is completely preventable by good control of blood sugar, brought about by a healthy lifestyle and compliance with prescribed medications.

November 14: What's happening in SA

AS companies, organisations, governments and the public are starting to mobilise around the world to raise awareness about this often fatal disease diabetes, so too is South Africa stepping up in support. KwaZulu-Natal is leading the field with the Novo Nordisk Changing Diabetes bus which will be visiting various shopping centres in the province until November 20.

Free diabetes screenings to check all those important numbers — blood glucose, blood pressure, weight and waist circumference measurements — will be on offer on the bus, starting today­ at Umlazi Shopping Centre from where it will move to New South Coast Mall, Phoenix Plaza and Liberty Midlands Mall in Pietermaritzburg.

Visit www.changingdiabtes.co. za to find out when the bus will be in your area.

Trained nurses will assess personal risks of developing the disease once all the numbers have been obtained, and they will also refer anyone at risk or who has the disease to the nearest clinic, health centre or medical professional for advice.

Another event is the Diabetes Village which takes place on November­ 14 at the Chatsworth Cricket Stadium.

Marquees will offer free diabetes-related­ services to the public — eye screenings, cholesterol testing, blood glucose and blood pressure monitoring, advice on foot care, diet and exercise, even a specialised cardiac-clinic — everything you need to know about diabetes — and more will be available.

Children will be well catered for with funfilled activities through the day.

The day is organised and presented by the Chatsworth Diabetes Action Group and supported by Novo Nordisk.

For more information on the day and the activities, contact the organiser Logan Pillay at 031 402 1332 or 082 847 3169.

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