It’s pretty likely that you know somebody with diabetes. Currently, around 1.7 million Australians have diabetes, with current predictions telling us that this number is set to grow. The annual cost of diabetes treatment is around $14.6 billion and diabetes is responsible for a huge number of complications and other illnesses.
Diabetes is a disease where your body cannot store glucose. It’s all about a hormone called insulin which is made by the pancreas. The pancreas is a feather shaped organ that sits near your stomach in the upper abdomen. When it’s secreted, insulin causes our body to store glucose in our liver and muscle cells, or convert it to fat for longer term storage. Diabetes can creep on slowly and have very mild symptoms when it is type 2, so it’s vital to be checked by your GP.
There are two types of diabetes; type 1 and type 2. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not make enough insulin. We typically see this type of diabetes start in kids. In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas makes enough insulin but the body has become resistant to “hearing” its instructions to store the glucose. We tend to see type 2 diabetes in adults and in conjunction with other diseases such as high blood pressure and obesity. Worryingly, we are seeing more children and teenagers with this type of diabetes.
Gestational diabetes is another form of diabetes that happens during pregnancy. While it does tend to go away after the baby is born, the mother is at much higher risk for getting type 2 diabetes later in life.
By itself, diabetes can make someone very sick. When your blood glucose is too high, it can lead to organ failure, coma and even death in severe cases. Diabetes also causes damage to other organs over the longer term. This happens due to the high blood sugar causing damage to the cells of our body and increasing the risk of damage from other illnesses like high blood pressure.
The blood vessels of the body are particularly prone to the ill effects of diabetes. People with diabetes are at increased risk of having heart disease, stroke or peripheral vascular disease, where the blood vessels our legs, abdomen, neck and major organs get clogged up with plaque. In some cases, when the blood supply is very poor to the legs, this can mean amputations are necessary. In Australia, 4400 amputations happen every year because of diabetes.
Diabetes is also the leading cause of blindness in our community. Over time, the blood vessels of our eye get damaged from high blood sugars. This can eventually lead to real troubles with vision. It can also cause kidney failure, in some cases needing dialysis, due to the damage caused to the filtering part of the kidneys.
With diabetes on the rise, it’s vital that we understand that a large proportion of Type 2 diabetes is preventable. Type 1 diabetes is not preventable, as usually for unknown reasons, the pancreas gets sick and fails. Type 2 diabetes accounts for 85% of all diabetics and is on the rise, but we can stop it.
People who are at risk of developing diabetes include those who have a family history of it, being inactive, having high blood pressure of a waist circumference over 80cm for women (or 94cm for men). It’s also more common in women with polycystic ovary syndrome or those of specific ethnic backgrounds including Aboriginal Australians, Pacific Islanders and those from South Asia. If you fall into any of these categories, you should absolutely be tested.
The things that prevent diabetes include being active, eating a diet that is low in sugar and refined carbohydrates and full of vegetables, fruit, fiber and healthy fats. Maintaining a healthy weight, which you can check by looking at your waist circumference as well as keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol under recommended levels also decreases your risk of diabetes.
If you already have diabetes, you may need to be on medications. These medications not only keep your sugars at a safe level, but they also stop the development of problems like heart disease. Being able to keep your lifestyle healthy can reduce your reliance on these medications and help to reduce the resistance of your body to insulin.
For more information, visit https://www.diabetesaustralia.com.au or talk to your GP.