Diabetes is a term used for several conditions affecting how your body turns food into energy. An inability to take up sugars (glucose) from food into the cells of the body in order to produce energy, leads to an buildup of sugars in your blood. If not controlled properly diabetes can harm large and small blood vessels leading to diseases in different parts of your body, including your heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves.
In some people, their immune system attacks the cells that make insulin, the hormone that that helps balance your blood sugar levels (type 1 diabetes). This condition is most common in children and young adults. They depend on insulin injections to control their blood sugar. In some other people, their cells may not make enough insulin, or their body resists it (type 2 diabetes). This is usually seen in middle-aged or older people. They can control their blood sugar with medicines. Diabetes is a life-long disease and cannot be cured. Women who have high blood sugar during pregnancy may develop diabetes later in life.
You can manage diabetes with medicines. Some of the medicines are so effective that they also protect the organs from damage, for example metformin. Most people, if they live long enough, will require insulin in the long run. The aim of treatment is to delay complications and prolong life. Diabetes can be prevented and managed by making healthy lifestyle choices.
Diabetes symptoms vary depending on how your blood sugar levels. Some people, especially those with prediabetes (a condition preceding the actual disease) or type 2 diabetes, may not experience symptoms initially. In type 1 diabetes, symptoms tend to come on quickly and be more severe.
Some of the signs and symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes are:
- Increased thirst.
- Frequent urination.
- Extreme hunger.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Presence of ketones in the urine (ketones are a by-product of the breakdown of muscle and fat that happens when there's not enough available insulin).
- Blurred vision.
- Slow-healing sores.
- Frequent infections, such as gums or skin infections and vaginal infections.
In type 1 diabetes, your immune cells attack your insulin-producing cells. Your genes and environment are the main cause of this disease type.
In gestational and type 2 diabetes, your cells stop responding to insulin as they should. This can be due to an unhealthy lifestyle with a one-sided diet and little exercise, and being overweight.
Certain factors increase your risk of diabetes, and this depends on the type of diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes
You’re more likely to get type 1 diabetes if you’re a child or teenager, you have a parent or sibling with the condition, or you inherit certain genes that are linked to the disease.
Type 2 diabetes
As an African, your risk is already high and this increase if you:
- Are overweight.
- Are aged 45 or older.
- Have a parent or sibling with the condition.
- Aren’t physically active.
- Have had pregnancy related diabetes.
- Have prediabetes.
- Have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or high triglycerides.
Your risk for pregnancy related (gestational) diabetes increases if you:
- Are overweight.
- Are over age 25.
- Had gestational diabetes during a past pregnancy.
- Have given birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds.
- Have a family history of type 2 diabetes.
- Have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
If you notice any possible diabetes symptoms in yourself or your child, contact your healthcare provider. The earlier the condition is diagnosed, the sooner treatment can begin. If you've already been diagnosed with diabetes before be extra mindful of the symptoms.
You cannot prevent type 1 diabetes, but you can reduce your risk of complications by making healthy lifestyle choices. Healthy lifestyle choices can help prevent or delay type 2 diabetes. Eat a balanced diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, unprocessed foods and lean meat and fish, keep physically active, maintain a healthy weight and quit smoking.
Depending on what type of diabetes you have, keeping track of your blood sugar levels, injecting insulin and taking medicines may play a role in your treatment.
- A diabetes diet means eating healthy foods in moderate amounts and sticking to regular mealtimes. A healthy diet includes plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrain products (e.g. whole meal bread), beans, chicken, (fatty) fish (e.g. sardines) and nuts.
- Maintain a healthy weight and lose weight if you are overweight.
- Participate in regular activities such as walking or running. Exercise is important in managing diabetes.
- Measure your blood sugar levels at home, especially if you are using insulin.
- Stop smoking tobacco.
- In patients with type 1 diabetes, insulin injection is the recommended treatment. You measure your blood sugar level daily, count your calories and calculate how much insulin you should take.
- In type 2 diabetes, you will be given pills (e.g. metformin and glibenclamide) to control your blood sugar. With time, you may also be required to take insulin to manage this condition. You may slow down the progression of type-2 diabetes, or even reverse the condition, through proper self-care (especially by eating a healthy diet and through weight-loss).
Diabetes can be prevented and managed by making healthy lifestyle choices. Eat healthily, exercise frequently, maintain a healthy weight and check your blood sugar regularly.
Complications of diabetes may be present at diagnosis, since most people are diagnosed after blood sugar elevations have caused symptoms to occur. Continue to use the recommended medicines, monitor your blood sugar, eat a healthy diet, keep physically active and attend your medical appointments. This will slow down complications and ensure appropriate monitoring of symptoms.