6 things to learn about diabetes on World Diabetes Day

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Written by Ingrid Vennonen, Bachelor of Nursing (Graduate Entry) graduate (2017)

Today is World Diabetes Day, created in 1991 by the International Diabetes Federation and the World Health Organization in response to growing concerns about the escalating health threat.

Here’s six things to learn about on the birthday of Sir Frederick Banting (who co-discovered insulin along with Charles Best in 1922):

1. What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic, serious health condition which can have an affect on a person’s whole body and requires steps to control the condition along with daily care and medication. Secondary conditions can also develop such as leg ulcers; these conditions significantly lower quality of life and life expectancy. While there is no cure, the condition can be managed effectively in everyday life.

Diabetes and glucose are very closely related. Glucose is sugar and one of the human body’s primary sources of energy. Glucose is found in foods we eat such as fruit, breads, cereals, starchy vegetables, legumes, milk, yogurt and sweets. Normally, the body works to convert glucose to energy by using insulin (a hormone). With diabetes, glucose isn’t converted to energy and remains in the blood. There are a few ways glucose remains unconverted, which defines the two types of Diabetes.

Diabetes develops in individuals either due to continuous, uncontrolled high levels of blood glucose (hyperglycemia) or through the body’s inability to produce insulin (a hormone made in the pancreas which helps to manage blood sugar levels) or to use insulin effectively, or both. Unresolved high blood glucose levels can lead to emergency events such as a diabetic coma or blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, strokes and decreases in mental health [1].

2. What are the different types of Diabetes?

There are 3 types of Diabetes: Type 1; Type 2; and gestational diabetes. All of these are complex and serious.

  • Type 1: is an autoimmune condition with a strong genetic link, however the cause of development is unknown. The autoimmune disease occurs due to the immune system becoming overly activated, destroying the pancreatic insulin producing cells. Therefore the pancreas can’t produce insulin and the ingested glucose remains unconverted in the blood stream.
  • Type 2: is a progressive condition developing over years and also is the most common type of Diabetes today. The direct cause is also unknown, however certain lifestyle factors such as diet and weight have been seen to be strongly associated.
  • Gestational diabetes: occurs during pregnancy (generally around 25 weeks gestation) due to the placenta producing more hormones resulting in an increase in the cells’ resistance to insulin. This type usually subsides after the birth. However, gestational diabetes can cause complications for the baby during pregnancy and after birth, such as excess growth and a predisposition to developing diabetes in life.

3. Are you at risk?

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An estimated 2 million Australians are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes and are already showing early signs of the health condition.

There are many different risk factors. Some factors can’t be changed such as a person’s genetics, race and their age. However, other risk factors can be reversed or avoided, which include eating a diet high in sugar, saturated fats and processed foods, being overweight, having a high blood pressure (over 140/90 mmHg) and low levels of “good” cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides (a type of fat carried in blood).

Women who are over 40 years old are more prone to developing gestational diabetes, or if an individual has a family history of diabetes, a high BMI or have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.

Diabetes Australia has developed a Risk Calculator based on the Australian type 2 diabetes risk test (AUSDRISK). If you’re curious about your risk, take the test and find out!

4. I haven’t been diagnosed; what do I watch out for?

Symptoms of Diabetes are similar across the different types. Type 1 diabetes usually has a quick onset with obvious symptoms appearing during childhood or adolescence. Whereas with type 2 symptoms may not be experienced initially and also keeping in mind the condition can develop at any age. Symptoms of Diabetes developing include increased thirst, frequent urination, hunger, unexplained weight loss, ketones in urine, fatigue, irritability, blurred vision, slow healing and frequent infections.

Take a simple test to see if you could spot the warning signs in your family.

5. Are there tests for Diabetes?

Yes. Accurate and simple tests are available to diagnose and determine the treatment/plan. There are a few different tests which can be done at your local GP.

6. How do I manage my diagnosis, or what can I do to prevent a diagnosis?

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Management greatly depends on the type of diabetes you have been diagnosed with and can include medication, blood sugar monitoring and introducing a healthy diet and regular exercise.

  • Type 1 is managed with insulin injections several times a day or the use of an insulin pump.
  • Type 2 can be managed by modifying lifestyle factors such as increasing daily physical activity, eating a diet low in sugar and high GI carbohydrates and losing weight. However, due to type 2 being progressive, oral medication and/or insulin injections may also be needed.
  • Gestational diabetes treatment generally consists of a change in diet with regular physical activity and regular blood glucose monitoring.

Preventing diabetes is simple once you know the theory: Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with a diet low in sugar, low GI foods and high in fibre, minimal processed foods, regular physical activity, adequate sleep, drinking water as your primary beverage, a healthy BMI range and quitting smoking. By adopting these behaviours, healthy blood sugar levels should be stable, giving you the best chance at avoiding this complex, challenging disease.

Read more: Carbohydrates and common sense

Are you a health professional looking to become a Credentialled Diabetes Educator? Find out about studying a graduate certificate in diabetes education and management at UTS


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