What we should all know about Australia’s biggest health challenge

It has been called the epidemic of the 21st century and the biggest challenge confronting Australians.

Every five minutes an Australian is diagnosed with diabetes. That’s 280 of us every day.

Approximately 1.3 million Australians live with diabetes, with around 85 per cent having type 2 diabetes and 13.5 per cent type 1, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The prevalence of diabetes in Australians doubled between 1989 and 2005. In 2014–15, the rate increased from 4.4 per cent to 5.1 per cent.

While these rate increases are nationwide, around 12.8 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders over the age of 15 have type 2 diabetes, a large over-representation.

Smokers are 40 per cent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than non-smokers. The more you smoke, the greater your risk. It also increases a diabetic’s chance of developing complications such as eye conditions or heart and kidney disease.

Diabetes warning signs include increased thirst, hunger, urination, fatigue, headaches, dry mouth, blurred vision and unexplained weight loss.

According to Greeshma Patel, a Specsavers optometrist, diabetes is one of the leading causes of preventable blindness, yet few Australians know it can harm your vision. Diabetes may cause irreversible damage to small blood vessels at the back of your eyes. There may be no symptoms until your vision is irreversibly damaged. Patel recommends that people with diabetes have regular eyes checks, every one to two years.

Professor Greg Johnson, CEO of Diabetes Australia, urges people with type 2 diabetes to discuss it with their family members as they may be at greater risk of developing it.

“Your family members need to know that they may be at increased risk of type 2 diabetes and related eye problems and vision loss, and other complications of diabetes,” he says,

Another risk people often don’t associate with diabetes is the development of mental health conditions. Up to 50 per cent of diabetics are thought to also have a mental illness, such as anxiety or depression, yet only one in three are diagnosed and receive the necessary treatment.

Discuss your concerns with your GP or contact free services such as SANE, MensLine Australia or Lifeline.

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Written by Liv Gardiner

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