Diabetes

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The UK, and in fact Western nations in general, are in the grip of an epidemic in the form of type 2 diabetes; this is not surprisingly generally caused by living a Western lifestyle and is strongly linked with obesity. Obesity rates in the UK have increased 10 fold in the last 40 years and the number of people suffering with diabetes is spiralling out of control in a similar way. As with so many other conditions the symptoms are quite vague and so there are literally thousands of people – estimates are around 750000 people – in the UK who have diabetes but who don’t know it yet. This is very worrying for the medical profession as diabetes has been linked with and increased risk of heart disease, stroke and damage to other vital parts of the body including the eyes, kidneys and nerves, and identifying people who are diabetic and getting them good treatment as soon as possible greatly reduces the damage that it does.

There are different types of diabetes. Most people who suffer with diabetes either have Type1 or Type 2. Type 1 occurs when the body is unable to produce any insulin, and diagnosis is usually made at a young age when the person visits their doctor with fairly obvious symptoms (see later). The cause of Type 1 diabetes is not currently known so there is no way to prevent it at the moment. Type 2 usually occurs later in life when either insufficient insulin is produced, or the insulin becomes less effective. The symptoms are usually less pronounced and could easily be attributed to other causes. Many people assume their tiredness is because of stress, or getting older, and frequent infections are often thought to be caused by being run down. Of course these things can be true but many not always be the case.

The symptoms of diabetes include increased thirst, passing large amounts of urine, tiredness, weight loss, blurred vision, frequent infections including thrush, and slow healing of wounds. If you have any of these it is well worth consulting a health professional, as making the diagnosis or equally, reassuring you that you do not have diabetes, is relatively easy.

There are three main ways to check for diabetes. The most reliable is a blood test taken early in the morning before you have had anything to eat or drink. The easier, less painful, but also less accurate ways of testing for diabetes are a urine test, or a ‘finger prick’ blood test. Normally a diagnosis of diabetes is not confirmed based on these, but if they were suggestive of diabetes the early morning blood test would be recommended to clarify it. These tests can be carried out by your GP, practice nurse, or, in some cases, your pharmacist.

If you are diagnosed with diabetes it is important to discuss it with your GP as they will probably advise you to have other tests to determine how much your diabetes is affecting you , and to recommend the most appropriate treatment. This may just be a case of modifying your diet, and your doctor or practice nurse will be able to explain exactly what this would involve.

You may not have any of the symptoms of diabetes but it is important to know whether or not you are at risk of becoming diabetic. You are at increased risk of developing diabetes if you have any of the following:

  1. You are overweight or have an increased waist circumference -31.5in for women or 37in for men.
  2. You have a close relative with type 2 diabetes
  3. You have a history of high blood pressure, heart attack or stroke
  4. You have impaired glucose tolerance (that’s a blood test)
  5. Having severe mental health problems
  6. You have a history of diabetes in pregnancy

If you think you are at risk please consider having it checked out. There is a lot that can be done to reduce your chances of developing diabetes later in life. The tests are the same as they would be for someone with symptoms suggestive of diabetes and determining your risk is fairly straightforward.

If you already have diabetes they the complications are largely caused by high sugar levels in the blood, so good control of your blood sugar is the main aim of your treatment. Your GP needs to see you at least once a year to review your diabetes, your blood pressure, blood tests and a few other basic things. If you haven’t been for a while it may be worth calling your surgery to find out if these tests are overdue. Believe me when I say that your doctor will not think you are wasting their time.

Regarding what you can do to minimise the damage that diabetes can do to you, the list is the same as it is for so many other conditions:

  1. Maintain a healthy weight – particularly important for people with diabetes
  2. Do not smoke. Many of the complications of diabetes are the same as the complications of smoking, so if you have one please don’t have the other!
  3. Exercise regularly – this improves your blood sugar levels
  4. Eat a healthy diet, with a low glycaemic index and plenty of fruit and vegetables

Please be reassured – if you are at risk of Type 2 Diabetes, or already have it, this is a largely reversible situation as long as the condition has not been severe enough to do permanent damage. With the right support around you, diabetes does not need to be a problem. Do feel free to contact us through the website if you have any particular worries.

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