Diabetic?

Empower yourself to learn more and take care of your condition

About 347 million people worldwide have diabetes. The number of new cases is increasing and it is it estimated that by 2030, this number will almost double. Diabetes has become one of the major causes of premature illness and death in most countries, mainly through the increased risk of cardiovascular disease. This will continue to increase. In fact, diabetes is predicted to become the 7th leading cause of death in the world by the year 2030.

In Malta, the Health Interview Survey, dated 2008 and which relies on selfreported data, estimated a prevalence rate of 8.3% for people aged 20 to 79 years. In order to get better estimates of diabetes, the European health examination survey was carried out in 2010, whereby actual measurement of blood glucose was done.

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“ Diabetes is a disease in which blood glucose levels are above normal. People with diabetes have problems converting food to energy ”

This resulted in an estimated prevalence amongst adults of 9.8%. The prevalence is higher in women than men, with 9% of males with elevated blood glucose when compared to 10.7% of females.

Diabetes is a disease in which blood glucose levels are above normal. People with diabetes have problems converting food to energy. After a meal, food is broken down into a sugar called glucose, which is carried by the blood to cells throughout the body.

Cells use the hormone insulin, made in the pancreas, to help them process blood glucose into energy.

People develop type-2 diabetes because the cells in the muscles, liver, and fat do not use insulin properly and/or the pancreas cannot make enough insulin for the body’s needs. As a result, the amount of glucose in the blood increases while the cells are starved of energy. Over time, diabetes can damage the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, and nerves.

Diabetes increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. In a multinational study, 50% of people with diabetes die of cardiovascular disease (primarily heart disease and stroke).

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Combined with reduced blood flow, neuropathy (nerve damage) in the feet increases the chance of foot ulcers, infection and eventual need for limb amputation.

Diabetic retinopathy is an important cause of blindness, and occurs as a result of long-term accumulated damage to the small blood vessels in the retina. One percent of global blindness can be attributed to diabetes. Diabetes is also among the leading causes of kidney failure.

The overall risk of dying among people with diabetes is at least double the risk of their peers without diabetes.

Many have no signs or symptoms. Symptoms can also be so mild that you might not even notice them. Some people have symptoms but do not suspect diabetes.

Symptoms include

  • increased thirst
  • increased hunger
  • fatigue
  • increased urination, especially at night
  • weight loss
  • blurred vision
  • sores that do not heal

Diabetes is a chronic condition that cannot be cured. Hence it is of outmost importance to manage the condition. A diabetic needs to concentrate on keeping blood sugar levels as close to normal (“euglycemia”) as possible, without causing hypoglycemia (low blood glucose). This can usually be accomplished with a balanced diet, exercise, and use of appropriate medications (insulin in the case of type-1 diabetes, oral medications, as well as possibly insulin, in type-2 diabetes) as indicated by the doctor..

Diet is one of the main factors that can control diabetes. Diabetes does not mean that an individual has to keep back from food. In fact evidence shows that a person suffering from diabetes does not need a special diet. A balanced healthy diet must always be followed. Therefore basing your meals on the following four food groups – bread, cereals and potatoes, fruit and vegetables, milk and diary products, meat, fish and alternatives – is of utmost importance.

In diabetes, one must be careful of the type and amount of carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, rice, cereals and potatoes. Choosing whole meal products when possible will help control sugar levels in the blood as well as increase the amount of fiber. Reducing the intake of fatty and sugary foods is also important in controlling diabetes. Foods high in sugar should be avoided in order to control sugar levels in the blood.

Weight control is another important factor in diabetes. Following a healthy, balanced diet and carrying out exercise could achieve this. Minimizing the intake of fats and sugar would also help an individual manage his/her weight.

A diabetic individual must always keep in mind to balance their meals and eat regularly. The latter is very important to control the glucose (sugar) in the blood. Giving your body small portions of food regularly will help the glucose levels remain balanced.

On the other hand, long periods without eating food must be avoided. This should always be avoided even in those who do not have the condition, however when suffering from diabetes one should be more careful. Long periods without food may cause a sudden increase in sugar level as soon as food is ingested. These sudden rises and falls in sugar levels in the blood are not good for the body due to certain side effects that can occur.

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“ American Diabetes Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity ”

Exercise has positive benefits for those who have diabetes. It can lower blood sugar levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and strengthen the heart, improving glycaemic control. The American Diabetes Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity (50 – 70% of maximum heart rate) or at least 90 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic exercise (more than 70% of maximum heart rate). Exercise at least three days a week, and do not go more than two consecutive days without physical activity.

Diabetes is a condition people learn to live with and can lead a normal life. Don’t be afraid to check if you have diabetes. Speak to your family doctor for a check-up.

Dr Charmaine Gauci