Diabetes is one of SA’s biggest killers. Here’s how to manage it

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Managing diabetes (Photo by Mehedi Hasan/NurPhoto via Getty Images)PHOTO:
Managing diabetes (Photo by Mehedi Hasan/NurPhoto via Getty Images)PHOTO:

Diabetes is a leading natural cause of death in South Africa, second only to tuberculosis. It is the number one killer for women and ranks sixth on the mortality list for men.

Popo Maja, spokesperson for the health department, says noncommunicable diseases, including diabetes, are the leading cause of death around the world, “causing more deaths than all others combined”.

And, he says, “they strike hardest at the world’s low-and middle-income populations”.

There are three types of diabetes: type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes. The last affects pregnant women, usually during the second and third trimesters.

Maja says type 1 diabetes “is caused by an autoimmune reaction, whereby the body’s immune system attacks the insulin-producing beta cells in the islets of the pancreas gland. As a result, the body produces little or no insulin.”

People with type 1 diabetes, says Maja, require daily insulin injections “to maintain a glucose level in the proper range. Without insulin they would not be able to survive.”

Type 2 diabetes is the most common condition. It affects mainly older adults, “because of a progressive loss of insulin secretion, which is insufficient to compensate for insulin resistance”. Maja warns that this type is increasingly being seen in children, adolescents and young adults – a phenomenon he attributes to “rising levels of obesity, physical inactivity and poor diet”.

Maja says a healthy lifestyle is key to preventing and managing type 2 diabetes. This entails adopting a healthy diet, exercising regularly, quitting smoking and maintaining a healthy body weight.

“Much of a patient’s diabetes management takes place within their family and social environment. The involvement and participation of family members in disease management is vital.”

Brian Midlane of Diabetes SA says his organisation provides support to people living with diabetes.

“We host monthly support group meetings in which we invite guest speakers who are experts in their field to address the audience on matters affecting people who have diabetes.

“We have hosted dietitians, audiologists, exercise specialists and even a lawyer, who has spoken about how the law affects people with diabetes and about discrimination against people with diabetes.

“We at Diabetes SA have noticed an alarming increase in the number of people diagnosed with the disease. Of particular concern are the number of children being diagnosed.”

Midlane dismisses the belief that eating sugar causes diabetes.

“In reality, all carbohydrates form glucose in the body. We need glucose to give us energy. A healthy body can process the glucose. With diabetes, the cells cannot absorb the glucose and it stays in the blood,” he says, reiterating the need for people to adhere to a healthy diet. “Healthy eating is critical to managing diabetes.”

Midlane advises diabetics to test their blood glucose levels regularly and undergo regular HbA1c tests to ascertain their average glucose count over the past three months.

“Joining a support group is also a good plan. This is where people encourage each other and you can learn about both managing the disease and complications that can arise. And remember: diabetes affects many parts of the body – the feet, kidneys, heart and eyes – so taking full-on care of yourself is essential.”

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