World Health Day focuses on diabetes

2016-04-06 06:00


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THIS year, World Health Day on Thursday, 7 April will focus on increasing awareness about the rise in diabetes.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the condition appears to be a problem in low and middle- income countries.

About 350 million people worldwide have diabetes and this number is likely to double in the next 20 years.

A local doctor gave the following advice on the condition.

• What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a medical condition resulting from the inability of the body to properly utilise the carbohydrates we consume in our diet.

• Explain the two different types?

There are two types of diabetes - Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 diabetes affects younger patients (usually two to 30 years of age) and is the result of total absence of insulin production by the pancreas.

Type 2 diabetes usually affects patients 40 and above. In these patients insulin is produced by the pancreas, but the body does not respond to the insulin. This is known as insulin resistance. Insulin resistance gradually develops over the years and is the result of a sedentary life style, excessive weight gain, truncal obesity and a lack of exercise. Some patients might have a genetic predisposition to the development of Type 2 diabetes.

• How does diabetes affect the body if untreated?

Untreated or poorly controlled diabetes affects every organ in the body and can result in blindness (diabetic retinopathy), heart disease (heart attacks), kidney failure (diabetic nephropathy), poor wound healing, gangrene of the legs due to poor blood supply and loss of sensation in the lower legs, etc. Extremely high levels of blood sugar can lead to a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis, coma and death unless urgently treated.

• What are the symptoms of diabetes?

Diabetes presents as excessive thirst, excessive urination, and increased appetite with tiredness and weight loss. Early diabetes may go undiagnosed for several months or years and regular blood sugar measurements would pick it up early and treatment can then be started before complications set in.

• What are the risks of diabetes in children?

Children usually have Type 1 diabetes and need to take insulin injections three to four times a day. All these complications above can occur in children as well if the diabetes is not properly controlled. Children are at a higher risk of developing low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), which needs to be recognised by the care giver, and if sugar solution is not given in time they can go into a deep coma with resultant brain damage.

• Is diabetes hereditary?

There is a strong hereditary element to Type 2 diabetes. But a sedentary lifestyle (lack of exercise) and a high body mass index predispose adults to early development of Type 2 diabetes. The excessive consumption of junk food high in sugars (fizzy drinks, potato fries, hamburgers, etc.) lead to truncal obesity which in turn leads to early onset of Type 2 diabetes. A modern lifestyle is one of the most important factors in the development of Type 2 diabetes.

• What sort of diet should you follow once diagnosed?

A diabetics diet consists of complex carbohydrates which should constitute 1/4 of the plate. Vegetables constitute 1/2 of the plate and proteins constitute the remainder. Small portions (use a small plate) reduce sudden peaks of blood sugar. Meals can be taken in small portions four to five times a day instead of big portions two to three times a day. All vegetables and proteins are good for diabetics. Carbohydrates must be minimised and complex carbohydrates (whole-wheat bread, brown rice) both replace refined carbohydrates.

• Is exercise important for a diabetic?

Exercise is one of the most important aspects of the management of diabetes. It helps to reduce appetite, increases insulin sensitivity thereby reducing insulin resistance, and helps with weight control. The basic minimum is walking for 30 minutes three times a week.

• What is the treatment for diabetes?

The most important aspect of the management of diabetes is exercise, appropriate diet (avoiding all refined carbohydrates and eating small portions) and weight reduction.

These three steps are called lifestyle changes. In addition to these changes the doctor might prescribe tablets or insulin injections depending on the severity of the diabetes. The patient will also have to monitor their blood sugar on a daily basis and keep a diabetic diary.

Explain that diabetes is life-threatening and should not be ignored. I know of many people who know they are diabetic, yet still don’t take their medication. Please urge them to follow doctor’s orders.

“Diabetes is a silent killer. You do not feel anything, but it constantly damages the organs inside your body.

“The most important aspect of diabetes management is for the patient to implement lifestyle changes and take responsibility for their health.

“They have to comply with the medication prescribed and take them exactly as advised by the doctor,” said Verghese.

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