What you do not know about diabetes

Diabetes is at epidemic proportions across the globe and most people know someone living with this condition. The serious physical and mental health complications associated with all types of diabetes however, are less widely known. Here are things you may not know about diabetes.

Personal and social costs of diabetes are enormous

If you live with diabetes you will know that it is not just about sugar. Most people associate diabetes with the sweet stuff, but it is far more complicated than that. Many people experience significant impact on their social and emotional wellbeing.

There are different types of diabetes and while they have similar impacts on your body, they are very different diseases

There are three basic types – type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes (pregnancy diabetes). They have similar problems in relation to lack of insulin, but have different causes and management regimes. Type 2 diabetes never turns into type 1 diabetes, but many people with type 2 diabetes will eventually need some insulin injections to manage due to the progressive nature of the condition.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease and nothing to do with lifestyle or eating too much sugar

In type 1 diabetes the pancreas does not make insulin at all because the cells that produce insulin have been destroyed by the body’s own immune system. While we are getting closer, we still don’t understand why this happens, but some kind of trigger sets of an autoimmune attack. It is usually diagnosed in people under 40, but can occur at any age. Insulin acts as a key to open the blood cells and release glucose from your food into your brain, muscles and organs, where it is needed to live. For people with type 1 diabetes insulin must be replaced in order to survive.

While it usually affects older adults, more and more younger people are developing type 2 diabetes

Type 2 is the most common form of diabetes, with around 85-90% of all people having type 2. In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas still makes some insulin, but this reduces over time. The other problem is that insulin in people with type 2 diabetes does not work effectively due to insulin resistance. There is a strong genetic link and this risk is increased when there are also lifestyle factors, such as high blood pressure, being overweight or obese, not being active enough, eating an unhealthy diet and having the classic ‘apple shape’ body where extra weight is carried around the waist.

Other risk factors include specific cultural groups being at higher risk, being over 40 and spending a lot of time sitting and not enough time moving. It is not true that people with type 2 diabetes caused their own disease and nobody should ever be blamed or feels guilty about having diabetes.

Once you have diabetes, the impact on your life is relentless

Depending on the type of diabetes, people with diabetes must carry out daily self-management tasks such as finger pricks several times a day to check blood glucose, counting carbohydrates in every meal, taking multiple injections and medications, or wearing and managing an insulin pump. The risks of not maintaining tight control of blood glucose include blindness, kidney failure, stroke, heart attack and nerve damage.

Every aspect of activity in life affects blood glucose and many people feel like they are walking a tightrope, or riding a rollercoaster

Exercise, stress, food and hormones, are just a few of the things that can wreak havoc with blood glucose when your body does not have a functioning pancreas. It can be extremely difficult to maintain and often unpredictable, isolating and frightening.

This story was published in Newswatch Times on December 12, 2015.


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