What you don’t know about diabetes

Awareness of diabetes as a condition has probably never been higher, but apart from knowing the name of the disease, something about blood sugar and daily insulin injections, and the fact that it’s not a nice thing to have, how much do you really know about diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar (glucose) levels. For our bodies to perform optimally, we need to convert glucose into energy. A hormone called insulin is essential for this conversion process. If glucose can’t be converted to energy, it stays in the blood. This results in high blood glucose levels which, in turn, can lead to all manner of dangerous health conditions and, possibly, even death.

There are three types of diabetes: gestational – which occurs during pregnancy but often stops afterwards; type 2 – which is when the body doesn’t make enough insulin or doesn’t respond to it, and type 1 – which is when the body doesn’t produce any insulin at all.

In all cases of diabetes, around 15 per cent are type 1 and 85 per cent are type 2. Around 280 Australians get diabetes each day. Around 600 a week will end up in hospitals due to undiagnosed type 1 diabetes, and there are an estimated 500,000 undiagnosed sufferers of type 2 diabetes.

Now you’ve got the basics, you may or may not know that diabetes:

  • is the leading cause of blindness in adults
  • is a leading cause of kidney failure and dependency on dialysis
  • doubles your chance of early death
  • is the leading cause of preventable limb amputations
  • may make you twice as likely to suffer hearing loss
  • increases the risk of heart attacks and stroke by up to four times
  • also affects mental health, with depression, anxiety and distress occurring in more than 30 per cent of all people with diabetes.

Early symptoms of diabetes include:

  • thirst
  • frequent toilet visits
  • extreme fatigue
  • weight loss.

If Type 1 isn’t diagnosed in time, it can be fatal, so keep an eye out for these symptoms, as early detection could save your life.

Type 2 diabetes has no obvious symptoms and is therefore not so easily diagnosed. Sometimes people can have it for years before it is recognised. During that time, you could suffer damage to your blood vessels and nerves, vision loss, heart attacks, stroke and kidney damage, and amputation.

If you are even suspicious of having diabetes, or if it runs in your family, early detection is vital. Take advantage of free diabetes checks and give yourself the best chance of preventing further damage or at least giving yourself peace of mind.

“We want to encourage people to come in and make the most of our free health checks, especially as the number of under-diagnosed Australians is staggering for conditions such as diabetes, where half a million Australians are currently undiagnosed and at risk,” says Pharmacist and Managing Director of Pharmacy 4 Less Feras Karem.

“Many of the negative health outcomes of Type 2 are preventable if managed early on, and the tests take just a few minutes, so it is well worth coming in. As always, if you’re already concerned that you may have diabetes, you should head straight to your GP or a qualified medical professional as soon as possible.”

There is also evidence that the early detection of diabetes could help to prevent the development of dementia, says Dementia Australia.

“This includes evidence that the risk of developing dementia in the general population is about 10 per cent, but for people with diabetes the risk doubles to around 20 per cent,” said Dementia Australia CEO Maree McCabe.

“It is not clear if the increased risk of dementia is the same for people with type 1 diabetes, but given anyone can develop dementia, reducing your risk of developing the disease is important.

“These statistics highlight the need to ensure that Australians are aware of the risks associated with type 2 diabetes, and their potential link to dementia.

“It’s important to remember that both type 2 diabetes and dementia have no known cure, and the link between type 2 diabetes and dementia is not completely understood. However, there is evidence that type 2 diabetes is preventable.

“People who maintain a healthy weight, undertake regular physical activity, make healthy food choices, manage their blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and don’t smoke have a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes and could potentially reduce their risk of dementia.

“We encourage people to undertake regular health screenings with their doctor to detect diabetes-related and other health problems.”

While the threat and consequences of diabetes are quite sinister, there is hope for anyone who does develop the disease.

Diabetes Victoria has just awarded Kellion Victory Medals to 47 Victorians who have lived with diabetes for over 50 years.

“Less than 100 years ago, type 1 diabetes was a death sentence: half of the people who developed the condition died within two years and more than 90 per cent were dead within five years,” said a statement from Diabetes Victoria.

“There is no cure yet for type 1 diabetes; however, recent changes and improvements in diabetes management and technology are astounding. Equally as astounding are the determination, resilience, focus and courage that all Kellion Victory Medallists have shown during their long life with diabetes,” says Diabetes Victoria CEO Craig Bennett.

“I congratulate all of our recipients for this outstanding accomplishment. They all deserve our utmost respect and admiration.”

Learn more about diabetes at www.diabetesaustralia.com.au

Do you have diabetes? How do you manage? Were you aware of the extent of the disease?

Related articles:
Diabetes growth hits critical mark
Diabetes risk to great to ignore
What is pre-diabetes?

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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