Diabetes is a common condition affecting approximately 3.5 million people in the UK. On top of this it is thought that over half a million others are affected but aren’t aware of it.
This week is Diabetes Awareness Week. How much do you know about diabetes and its affects?
Diabetes is a lifelong condition with no cure, but can be controlled by lifestyle changes and medication. If managed correctly, further problems are less likely to occur and those affected can live a good quality life, especially with the ever evolving medical advances that are being made year-on-year.
Diabetes occurs because the pancreas either doesn’t produce enough insulin or the insulin it does produce doesn’t work correctly. There are two main types of diabetes – type 1 and type 2, but although there are steps and precautions you can take to help prevent diabetes, many have the condition because of genetic reasons or through being overweight. It is completely possible to manage diabetes, however you could find yourself suffering further problems including heart disease, strokes, kidney disease and blindness if you do not act appropriately.
Exploring type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is the least common type of diabetes found in the UK. It is caused by problems with the immune system and happens due to the fact the body cannot produce enough insulin. It is usually genetic. It is generally diagnosed in children or those in early adulthood but the symptoms can occur at any age. Symptoms usually occur quite quickly. Once treatment is received symptoms disappear as quickly as they appeared and many people feel better almost immediately.
Exploring type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes and is where the body produces some insulin but not enough. This type usually occurs in those who are overweight but can also be genetic. Symptoms develop over time which means they are easier to miss. You are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes if you are overweight, live a sedentary lifestyle and have a bad diet. Type 2 diabetes can also develop in pregnant women as ‘gestational diabetes’ but does usually disappear after giving birth.
Symptoms of diabetes
There are a number of common symptoms for diabetes that are caused by glucose staying in the blood and not being used as fuel for your energy. There are no specific symptoms that fit to a certain type of diabetes. If you think that you are showing any of these signs of diabetes you must visit your GP for tests.
- Going to the toilet to urinate more often than usual, especially at night
- Slow healing of cuts and wounds
- Unexplained weight loss
- Excessive thirst
- Blurred vision
- Extreme tiredness
People with diabetes can usually find they suffer with low blood sugar too, otherwise known as hypoglycaemia. Symptoms of this include slurring words, headaches and confusion.
There is no cure for diabetes, but you can manage it and continue to live a predominantly normal lifestyle.
For type 1 diabetes you are likely to need insulin injections, usually via an injection pen between 2–4 times a day; those with diabetes also often use a finger pricking device to monitor their blood glucose levels. To ensure that patients treatment plans are working, a long term view of blood glucose can be provided via a doctor or diabetic nurse, this is known as an HbA1c test and is conducted every 2-6 months. As type 1 diabetes can cause long term health problems, you will be at an increased risk of heart disease and kidney disease. To lower these risks, you may need to take additional medicines to reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol levels
Type 2 diabetes is most commonly controlled by tablets and making changes to diet and lifestyle. Those with Type 2 diabetes should follow general advice on exercise including participating in up to 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week including walking if you are aged from 16–64 and follow a healthy high fibre, low fat diet. This will help to keep blood glucose levels as normal as possible to remain in control and not increase your chances of developing further problems in later life.
For whichever type of diabetes you have, regular appointments with your healthcare professional can help you keep everything under control.
Another complication of diabetes is that people may suffer with what is known as hypoglycaemia —low blood glucose levels. Many long term complications occur due to high blood glucose but people can also experience problems as a result of low blood sugar.
Things to look out for and how you can help:
- Diabetics often wear some form of identification to alert those around them of their condition. For example, a medic alert like a bracelet or necklace
- Excessive sweating, blurred speech, dilated pupils and confusion are all signs of low sugar
- Someone suffering with low blood sugar may find it hard to communicate at times and become confused when you talk to them
- If you encounter someone suffering from hypoglycaemia offer them chocolate or glucose tablets to bring them back round. Alternatively, a sugary drink may help
- It is important not to just provide them with sugar as this is used up quickly by the body, help them by providing a small snack afterwards to help keep their levels stable
Health Shield members have access to mywellness via their plan which offers an array of diet and fitness advice to help you improve your overall health and wellbeing and impact your lifestyle. Just visit the Members’ Area and log in. There you can also find the link to a virtual GP just in case you’re struggling to get to the doctors and are worried you have any symptoms of diabetes.