Diabetes - The silent killer

Drs  Cameron Meyer & Mareliza Jurgens, Intercare

November is World Diabetes Awareness Month, with 14 November being World Diabetes Day. Intecare is not only emphasizing the importance of regular blood sugar tests, but are hosting free tests at all our practices.

Diabetes is sometimes called 'the silent killer' because so many people today are living with the disease - and dying from it - without even knowing they have it. Diabetes is a serious disease that causes your blood glucose (also called blood sugar) to be too high. Although glucose is needed for body energy, an excess can create a health risk. A diabetic is more than twice as likely to suffer a heart attack, stroke, or other complications, including blindness, kidney disease, gum infections and amputation. The good news is that diabetes can be controlled and those with the disease can live long and full lives.

There are three main types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2 and Gestational diabetes. Type 1 occurs when the pancreas stops producing insulin. It usually starts in young people under the age of 30 (and affects children). Type 2 is caused when the insulin, which the pancreas produces, is either not enough or your body becomes resistant to its effect.  Most adults who suffer from diabetes account for this type and sadly, many are undiagnosed. Gestational diabetes is a temporary condition that occurs during pregnancy. Both mother and child have an increased risk of developing diabetes in the future. Signs and symptoms of diabetes include unusual thirst, frequent urination, unusual weight loss, extreme fatigue or lack of energy, blurred vision, frequent or recurring infections, cuts and bruises that are slow to heal, boils and itching skin and tingling and numbness in the hands or feet. However, many people who have type 2 diabetes may show no symptoms at all.

Contrary to what some may believe, there is no such thing as ‘mild’ diabetes. Diabetes is always serious if it is left untreated or is not well managed. The high levels of blood glucose associated with diabetes can slowly damage both the fine nerves and the small and large blood vessels in the body, resulting in a variety of complications. With careful management, however, these complications can be delayed and even prevented, but early diagnosis is very important. This is where blood sugar tests become invaluable.

A simple way to test blood sugar is by the use of a small electronic device called a glucose metre. The metre reads the amount of sugar in a small sample of blood, usually from your fingertip, that is placed on a disposable test strip. Depending on the results of the test, you will be advised on the best way forward to control or manage the disease.

While there is no one-size-fits-all diabetes plan, per se, most diabetics will benefit from eating a healthy diet that includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meats and nonfat dairy products; exercising regularly to help lower blood-sugar levels; taking care of your teeth and gums by brushing twice a day, flossing daily and visiting a dentist at least twice yearly; examining your feet every day and reporting any new sores, blisters or discolored toes to your Intercare health-care provider and having a thorough eye exam by an ophthalmologist every one to two years (blood-vessel and circulation problems associated with diabetes can severely affect one's eyes).

Every South African needs to know whether they are at risk. It takes on average seven years for a person to get diagnosed with diabetes for the first time but less than seven minutes to get tested for it. By having a free blood sugar test this month, you can limit complications caused by diabetes and start getting the proper treatment, right away.

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