Diabetes

Updated 26 January 2017

Save your eyes with just one drop of blood

Diabetes has many effects, including blindness. Yet all we need to test for it is a single drop of blood.

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Diabetes is a condition where the amount of sugar (glucose) in the blood is too high. It is a so-called “disease of lifestyle”, which means that it can be caused by the way we live. It cannot be cured. Currently 6.5 million South Africans suffer from diabetes and 346 million people worldwide have diabetes. Eighty percent of diabetics die of heart disease and about 50% have a high cholesterol level.

Diabetes also affects other parts of the body:

  • Eyes – cataracts and retinopathy (gradual degradation of the eye) that may lead to blindness
  • Kidneys – kidney disease and failure
  • Nerves – neuropathy (gradual degradation of the nerves)
  • Feet – ulcers, infections, gangrene, etc.

There are three main types of diabetes:

Type 1 diabetes - occurs when the pancreas stops producing insulin. It usually starts in young people under the age of 30, including very young children and infants, and the onset is sudden and dramatic. People who have type 1 diabetes must inject insulin to survive. Insulin dosages are carefully balanced with food intake and exercise programmes. 

Type 2 diabetes - is caused when the insulin, which the pancreas produces, is either not enough or does not work properly. Approximately 85 - 90% of all people with diabetes are type 2, and many people who have this condition are undiagnosed.

Most type 2's are over 40. They are usually overweight and do not exercise. Type 2 diabetes may be treated successfully without medication. Often loss of weight alone will reduce glucose levels. Eating patterns and exercise play important roles in management. Tablets may be prescribed to help improve control, however, many type 2's will eventually use insulin.

Although type 2 is, in itself, not life threatening, in many ways it is more dangerous than type 1, as it's onset is gradual and hard to detect. High blood glucose levels over a long period of time can cause serious damage to the delicate parts of the body and lead to blindness, heart attack\stroke, kidney failure, impotence and amputation. 

Gestational diabetes - is a temporary condition that occurs during pregnancy. Both mother and child have an increased risk of developing diabetes in the future.

Reduce the risk

Substantial evidence from the International Diabetes Foundation (IDF) has shown that a healthy body weight and moderate physical activity can prevent the development of type 2 diabetes.

A daily exercise routine of 30 minutes (i.e. dancing, swimming, brisk walking, cycling) can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 40 %. Test your blood glucose regularly. 

Watch out for the warning signs!

Diabetes symptoms can be very mild and you may not even know that anything is wrong with you. You may experience the following symptoms (they vary from person to person):

  • Excessive thirst
  • Increased hunger
  • Frequent urination
  • Numbness/tingling in finger tips and toes
  • Tiredness
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Blurred vision/visual disturbances
  • Skin infection and wounds that heal slowly
  • Lack of energy

Risk indicators

  • A family history of diabetes
    • Lack of exercise
    • Overweight
    • Unhealthy diet

- Medi-Clinic press release

 

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Diabetes expert

Dr. May currently works as a fulltime endocrinologist and has been in private practice since 2004. He has a variety of interests, predominantly obesity and diabetes, but also sees patients with osteoporosis, thyroid disorders, men's health disorders, pituitary and adrenal disorders, polycystic ovaries, and disorders of growth. He is a leading member of several obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.

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