So what is diabetes?

2017-11-08 06:01


NOVEMBER is Diabetes Awareness Month and November 14 is International Diabetes Day.

Diabetes is a condition in which the body does not produce enough or properly respond to insulin. Insulin, a hormone, which is produced in the pancreas, allows cells to absorb glucose, which they turn into energy.

If you have diabetes, it is either because your body is not making enough insulin, or it is not using the insulin properly. Sugar goes round and round in your blood, and does not get into the cells to give you energy, leaving you feeling tired and unwell.

There are two more common types of diabetes - Type 1 is an autoimmune condition which most often occurs in younger people and the body makes no insulin at all, making it essential that the individual takes insulin to control the levels of sugar in their blood.

Type 2 occurs in 90% of those who have diabetes. It is a condition associated with our lifestyle today – we do not exercise enough and eat the wrong foods.

So more pressure is put on the body and the pancreas cannot keep up with the amount of insulin it needs to produce or our bodies do not use the insulin we do make correctly.

There is no such thing as a touch of diabetes. You either have diabetes, or you don’t.

Some patients with diabetes are able to control their blood sugars just by changing their diet and their lifestyle. Some people need to take tablets as well, and still others will require insulin to help them keep their blood sugars under control.

Symptoms to look out for in Type 2 diabetes - chronic tiredness, general feeling of being unwell, excessive thirst, excessive passing of urine, wounds that don’t heal easily, regular infections and illness and blurred vision.

Who may be at risk - family history of diabetes, being overweight especially round the tummy area, diabetes in pregnancy or a baby of over four kilograms, risk goes up if up you over 40.

It is important to control diabetes as high blood sugar levels or poorly managed diabetes can affect all organs in the body. Diabetes is a chronic condition, which cannot be cured.

• It can, to a large extent, be controlled by changes in lifestyle, and taking medication which the doctor will prescribe.

• Lifestyle changes include changing the way we eat - reduce the amount of starch in meals. Examples of starches include bread, rice, potato, puthu, cereal, oats, butternut, corn and anything made with flour.

• We should not eat anything with sugar in it – this includes cakes, biscuits, sweets, sugar in tea and coffee and fruit juice. Fruit is healthy, but should be eaten in small portions.

• If overweight it puts more pressure on the body and increases diabetes risk. Reduce how much you eat, do not snack between meals and try where possible to work with a dietician to help with weight loss.

• Exercise is very important for good general health as well as managing diabetes. It doesn’t matter what exercise it is – walking, running, gym, cycling. It must be done regularly - at least three times a week.

• Testing blood sugars is also important, as the readings help to better manage the condition. The more one learns about how things affect the sugars and diabetes in general, the easier it becomes to manage it. A diabetes educator will teach the patient and family about the condition and give ongoing guidance on what to do.

The bottom line is that diabetes can manage you, or you can manage the diabetes.

The hard work is done by the person with diabetes. The more they use the care team and have family support around them to understand and get a handle on the diabetes, the better they will control blood sugar levels and prevent them from going too high or too low.

• Kate Bristow is a diabetes nurse educator - 082 406 8707.


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