Here's what you need to know this World Diabetes Day

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Diabetes is a serious condition that can be managed, so it's important to know the symptoms.
Diabetes is a serious condition that can be managed, so it's important to know the symptoms.
Thomas Bradwick/Getty Images

Today is World Diabetes Day.

Just another awareness day, you may think, but here's why this one is so important. 

Diabetes is among the top 10 causes of death around the world.

In South Africa, 4.5 million adults are estimated to be living with diabetes – putting them at risk of life-threatening complications, the International Diabetes Federation says. 

Over two million of these people are undiagnosed and, as a result, may be particularly at risk.

When their diabetes is undetected or when they are inadequately supported, people with diabetes are at risk of serious and life-threatening complications, such as heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, blindness and lower-limb amputation.

Diabetes kills more people in this country than HIV and TB combined.

Read more | A local dietician's guide to healthy eating for diabetics

Diabetes in action

Eleanor Douglas-Meyers was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and she now takes medication.

“Diabetes is a bit of a game-changer for me,” she says in her blog, Just Ella Bella.

She goes on to explain how she feels.

“Here is how I am… TIRED! But relieved to have a diagnosis. I have been feeling gross for a while now and it is nice to know why.

“Diabetes runs in my family and I’ve seen people go blind, lose limbs and even die from it so I am not taking it lightly. I think when I was diagnosed with insulin resistance I took it too lightly. I didn’t change my lifestyle nearly enough, and look at me now.”

Ella shares the following list of symptoms so others will know what to look out for:

  • Increased thirst and frequent urination
  • Increased hunger
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Slow-healing sores or frequent infections
  • Areas of darkened skin, usually in the armpits and neck.

Ella didn’t suffer from all of these thankfully, but she was particularly hard hit by fatigue.

“This is part of why I ended up at the doctor, I keep falling asleep or being so tired it became physically uncomfortable,” she says.

Another tell-tale sign for her was blurred vision, which Ella says was awful.

“Things just get blurry and the eye specialist was extremely puzzled by this. I was sent for a load (read lots of money) of tests and nothing – just that my eyes are crazy dry and they get blurry. I knew that before forking over lots of money!

“The specialist ordered the first set of tests leading to diabetic diagnosis.”

And then there's Covid-19

Diabetes is one of the conditions studies show increases the risk of severe illness and death among patients infected with the virus.

Almost 1 in of 5 Covid-19 related deaths can be linked back to diabetes, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

“Far too many people are in the dark as to whether they have diabetes. People with this chronic condition suffer a double blow if they are also infected with COVID-19,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. 

"We can all take action to prevent diabetes by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including avoiding sugary drinks, processed foods, tobacco and alcohol, and doing around three hours of physical activity every week, like walking, dancing or playing sport," she said.

"Everyone should also be aware of early symptoms of diabetes and seek care promptly".

Read more | These daily habits can add years to your life 

Diabetes in brief

Diabetes occurs when the level of glucose (sugar) in your blood is too high, either because your body doesn’t produce enough insulin or your body does not effectively use the insulin that it does produce.

There are three main types of diabetes: 

  • Type 1 diabetes often begins in childhood. It occurs when the body attacks the pancreas with antibodies. The pancreas is damaged and is unable to produce the hormone insulin, which is responsible for regulating the blood sugar level. As a consequence, people with type 1 diabetes rely on daily injections of insulin to survive. Type 1 diabetes constitutes about 5%–10% of all cases of diabetes.
  • Type 2 diabetes occurs mostly in adults from the ages of 20-79. It accounts for about 90% of all diabetes cases. In type 2, the pancreas produces insulin, but it is either not enough or the body cells fail to use it – this is what’s known as insulin resistance. People who are obese have a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Gestational diabetes refers to high blood sugar that appears only in pregnancy, and usually goes away after delivery.

Source: The ConversationHeart and Stroke Foundation South Africa

Bridget McNulty, a type 1 diabetic and co-founder of Sweet Life Diabetes, and her team created a one-minute video clip to help people find out if they are at a high risk for type 2 diabetes and what you can do about it.

The video takes you through a series of questions with each one asking you to raise a finger if it is a symptom that applies. If at the end of the video you’re holding up more than five fingers, there's a possibility that you could have type 2 and you should see your local doctor and get your blood tested.

Watch the video below:

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