For some years now, Australia and the world have acknowledged that lifestyle diseases – high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol – are taking a heavy toll on human health. Diabetes is nothing short of an epidemic. About 280 Australians are diagnosed with diabetes every day. That means more than 100,000 Australians per year are added to the 1.7 million that are already affected. And every kind – Type 1, Type 2 and gestational – is on the rise.
Some basic facts about diabetes:
- Type 1: this is not a lifestyle induced condition. The body’s auto immune system destroys the cells required to produce insulin in the pancreas. Unfortunately, this can occur at any time and at any age, and may be linked to genetic factors. Marked by excessive thirst, abrupt weight loss and blurred vision, the treatment can only be insulin injections to make up for the fact that the body does not make it.
- Type 2: The bulk of cases belong to this category. Caused by a combination of poor lifestyle choices and genetics, type 2 indicates that the body is not producing insulin in sufficient quantity to convert glucose to energy. The worrying trend here is that not just people over 45, but an increasing number of younger people are being diagnosed.
- Gestational: this is a form of diabetes that affects between 5 to 10 % of pregnant women. It ends once the pregnancy is over, but the baby has a higher risk of type 2 diabetes later. It can be managed with the right diet and exercise, but in some cases may need insulin injections.
Why is it important to diagnose and manage diabetes?
Because the potential for further damage is huge. To name a few:
- It can increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke by 4 times.
- In extreme cases, a patient may lose their limbs by amputation
- It has been leading cause of kidney failure, requiring patients to go on dialysis.
Diabetes is a very complex condition to manage. So if you have been diagnosed with it, don’t take it lightly. Attack it with a good management plan.
Like with every condition, effective treatment begins with your GP.
Testing for diabetes:
But before you make changes to your lifestyle, make sure they are the right ones. A good way to start is to check if you are at risk. You can start with a simple online test. A few organisations like Diabetes Australia and Life!, offer a simple 10 question test on their website. If that shows you are high risk, it’s time to see your GP.
The GP will then recommend several tests and also do a physical examination.
- The tests could involve blood tests to measure glucose and cholesterol in the bloodstream, a stress test to measure cardiac strength and an eye test.
- In the physical test the mouth, feet, eyes, skin and thyroid gland will be examined. It may all seem like a long process, but it’s important to be as thorough as possible.
- The GP will have a long list of questions for you – genetic history, your racial origins, eating and sleeping patterns, weight trajectory and medications.
Also, the GP will be instrumental in not just creating a management plan for you, but bringing on board specialists such as a Nutritionist, a qualified Diabetes Educator and an eye-specialist. It is important that a right team be put together because from here on, the plan and its constant monitoring will be the key to your living a full life. It is an approach that has been very successful.
Keeping the sugar under control:
There is good, not so good and bad news. The bad first. Once a diabetic, always a diabetic (unless of course a cure is found soon). The not so good news is that diabetes has a natural progression that is possible to delay, not halt. The good news is that it can be managed quite effectively. This is truer for Type 2 diabetics than for Type 1. The aim of a management plan is to keep blood sugar within a prescribed limit. A basic approach has 3 steps:
- Daily monitoring of fasting sugar
- Exercise to keep at optimal weight
- Following the nutritionist’s diet guidelines
If the blood sugar levels continue to remain high, the GP may prescribe medication. With time and age, it is possible that oral medication has to be replaced with injections.
Resources to cope:
There are several organisations offering resources to diabetics and their carers. Diabetics Australia and Life! are a couple that offer information, guidance, updates on research etc. There are social groups, not-for-profits and resource centres that provide excellent community support. So if you have been recently diagnosed, reach out to others like you, hear their inspiring stories and tell them your own.