Until last week I had heard a lot of different and sometimes conflicting information about diabetes and how it affects people. It occurred to me that many others, both diabetics and non-diabetics may be in the same boat and since there are 3 million people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK and around 850,000 people living undiagnosed, I think diabetes is a disease we should all be well informed about.
First things first, what is diabetes?
Diabetes occurs when the body does not produce or properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other foods into energy needed for daily life. As a result, people with diabetes have abnormally high levels of glucose in their blood (think of it as insulin being the key to open the door to let glucose into cells).
There are two main types of diabetes:
Type 1 – develops if the body is unable to produce insulin
Type 2 – develops when the body still produces insulin which is ineffective or insufficient in quantity
Of the 3 million diabetics in the UK, between 85%-90% are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Within that percentile, the most associated risk factors include being over the age of 40, being overweight, leading a sedentary lifestyle, having a large waist measurement and high blood pressure. The main symptoms of diabetes include significantly increased thirst, needing to urinate more often than usual and increased hunger. Treatment generally includes injections/tablets of insulin, a healthy diet and physical activity.
Whilst at the training day I listened to testimonials of how diabetes had been diagnosed in a few individuals and how important support was for them. In particular, one lady found out she was diabetic after a general check-up to the doctors and was therefore able to have an early diagnosis and start having a good control of her blood glucose levels. The complications that can arise from poor blood glucose control can be very problematic to health, such as heart disease, stroke, and damage to the kidneys and nerves which can lead to amputation. This is a particular risk for adults who have had diabetes for several years before their symptoms are recognised (so if in doubt, go for a check-up!).
If there is one thing this training day has reaffirmed for me it is the importance of early diagnosis. Whether it is diabetes or something else, it is natural to be fearful of getting checked but we must always remember that if we have it, we have it and the most effective thing we can do is ensure we give ourselves the time to be treated. What’s more is that once diagnosed there is help out there. Diabetes UK is a marvellous charity which provides information and support for both new and long standing diabetics by means of a careline and excellent literature which can be found by visiting their website www.diabetes.org.uk or by calling 0845 120 2960.