To raise awareness and possibly save your life, the Independent Community Pharmacy Association is urging people to get screened for diabetes at participating community pharmacies that are offering free screening throughout November.
Free tests are also available at various Intercare Medical Centre’s and Shopping Centre’s as well as at MediRite pharmacies in Shoprite and Checkers supermarkets across the country.
The ICPA says those who have already been diagnosed with diabetes (3.6 million South Africans), it's important to have regular screenings to measure your levels of glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c).
“By measuring glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c), doctors are able to get an overall picture of what our average blood sugar levels have been over a period of weeks and months - and for people with diabetes this is important as the higher the HbA1c, the greater the risk of developing diabetes-related complications.”
The tip of the diabetes iceberg
The ICPA ran a diabetes screening programme of 10 000 South Africans that revealed some alarming results – 1 in 3 South Africans don't know it but may be at risk of developing diabetes over the next 10 years.
In fact, it's estimated that most diabetics have been living with the condition for seven years before they are even diagnosed.
Image: A table from the review article Diabetes mellitus: a global epidemic with potential solutions by R N Oputa and S Chinenye published in theAfrican Journal of Diabetes Medicine in November 2012
This means that their blood glucose levels haven’t been controlled for all that time and as a result, as many as 30% of those who are newly-diagnosed are already experiencing serious diabetes-related complications such as nerve damage, circulatory issues, blindness and organ damage.
While the most common symptoms of diabetes are well documented, the ICPA warns that people must look out for these subtle signs that something may be amiss with your blood sugar.
SUBTLE SIGNS OF DIABETES
- Skin changes - Dark, velvety patches in the folds of the skin, usually on the back of the neck, elbows, or knuckles, are often an early warning sign of too-high blood sugar levels, as high insulin levels promote the growth of skin cells, and melanin, a pigment in these cells, makes the patches dark.
- Changes in vision - Blurry vision is a diabetes symptom. But, in fact, any vision changes, whether for better or worse, can also be a symptom. The reason for this is that diabetes causes fluid levels in the body to shift around, including inside your eyes, which can lead to erratic eyesight.
- If left untreated, diabetes can ultimately lead to vision deterioration and even vision loss from diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration and eye strokes. So in addition to being screened for diabetes, if you have already been diagnosed with this common illness you must go for regular eye examinations.
- Itchiness - Diabetes impairs blood circulation, which can lead to dryness and itchiness.
- Hearing loss - A study by the National Institute of Health suggested that hearing loss could be an early warning sign of diabetes, and the researchers believe that diabetes damages the blood vessels and nerves of the inner ear, leading to sub-par hearing.
- Snoring - “Statistics have shown that about half of type-2 diabetics snore. The connection isn't completely understood, but it seems that people who snore tend to release stress hormones during sleep, which can raise blood sugar levels,” says the ICPA.
If you have two or more of these signs, take advantage of the free screenings offered in November and take charge of your health.