Updated 26 January 2017

Could you have diabetes and not know it?

Would you know if you were diabetic? According to Diabetes South Africa over 3 million South Africans are living with diabetes, and many more are undiagnosed.

Could you have diabetes and not know it? According to Diabetes South Africa, over 3 million South Africans are living with diabetes. However, it is thought that many more South Africans could be diabetic without knowing it.

A further five million people have pre-diabetes, a condition where blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough yet for diagnosis of diabetes. If left uncontrolled, pre-diabetes will eventually lead to type 2 diabetes.

Worldwide, approximately 366 million people have diabetes - a number which is expected to rise to 552 million by 2030. The global number of people with pre-diabetes is currently around 280 million, and is expected to grow to 398 million by 2030.  

Diabetes is a chronic health condition where the body is unable to produce enough insulin and properly break down glucose in the blood. Glucose comes from food and is used by the cells for energy. Without this energy, we cannot live.

So, why should you care?

Diabetes affects everyone – not only the patient, but also the families and communities at large. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to serious complications such heart disease, stroke, blindness, amputations, kidney failure and death.

The majority of people suffer from type 2 diabetes, a condition which in most cases could be avoided altogether by following a healthy diet and exercising regularly and going for routine blood glucose tests. Obesity is one of the strongest precursors of type 2 diabetes, so keeping your weight in check is crucial. Some people, however, also have a strong genetic predisposition to develop diabetes, such as our Indian population. Knowing the risk factors for diabetes is therefore very important.

The initial symptoms of type 2 diabetes (such as fatigue, increased thirst and urination, frequent infections and blurred vision) are very mild and develop so gradually that many people often fail to recognise them as warning signs of diabetes.

Take care of your family's health - and your own - by getting the facts on diabetes and spreading awareness. Here's what you need to know:

There are three types of diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the body stops producing insulin. It affects mostly children and young people. Learn more about the causes, symptoms and treatment.

Type 2 diabetes is a condition that develops over time where the body is unable to use insulin properly. Learn more about the risk factors, symptoms and treatment.

Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy due to hormonal changes, genetics and lifestyle factors. Protect your health and that of your baby by checking your risk factors and having your blood glucose levels tested when pregnant.

Are you at risk?

Pre-diabetes or insulin-resistance is a condition in which the body produces insulin but does not use it properly. More and more people are diagnosed as pre-diabetic. If left untreated, it can develop into type 2 diabetes.

SA's Indian population is at greater risk to develop diabetes, due to their genetic predisposition. Learn how you can protect yourself.

TB and HIV/Aids: few people realise that there are interactions between diabetes, tuberculosis (TB), and HIV/Aids, and their various treatments. Learn more here.

Your questions answered

Check out our FAQ on diabetes that explain the basics.

Despite its prevalence, misunderstandings about diabetes abound. Here are 6 diabetes myths debunked. 

Any more questions? Our Diabetes Expert is on standby to answer your questions.

For the latest news and research on diabetes visit our Diabetes News section.


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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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