The theme for World Health Day 2016 is “Beat Diabetes” – this is a worthy goal given that Diabetes is estimated to affect over 400 million people worldwide (approximately 9% of the world’s population). The prevalence of Diabetes has been rising more rapidly in low and middle-income countries such as Nigeria, and if this trend continues, Diabetes will be the 7th leading cause of death globally by 2030. A global response is important in curbing this trend, as Diabetes can often be prevented or delayed through key lifestyle changes.
What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic ailment that occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin or cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. Without adequate insulin production or action, the body is unable to adequately regulate blood sugar levels, leading to Hyperglycemia (increased blood sugar). Hyperglycemia can cause serious and irreversible damage to body organs, nerves and blood vessels.
Types of Diabetes
There are two main types of Diabetes – Type 1 Diabetes usually has onset in childhood and requires daily administration of insulin because the body does not produce any or enough of it. Type 2 Diabetes usually has onset in adolescence or adulthood, and is more commonly a result of excess body weight and unhealthy lifestyle choices. In this type of Diabetes, the body is unable to effectively use the insulin it produces, thereby requiring lifestyle changes and/or medications to control blood sugar levels.
Gestational Diabetes can also occur if blood sugar levels are above normal during pregnancy, placing women and their infants at increased risk of complications during pregnancy, and increased risk of Type 2 Diabetes in the future.
Pre-Diabetes refers to the presence of blood sugar levels greater than normal, but not yet at the level of Diabetes. These elevated blood sugar levels need close monitoring and sometimes treatment to reverse the trend towards Diabetes.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Diabetes
In order to diagnose Diabetes, your primary doctor will ask about certain signs and symptoms including increased thirst, increased appetite, increased urination, darkness of skin at the back of the neck, etc. They will also obtain a complete family history and inquire about the presence of other medical conditions such as Hypertension and Heart Disease. In addition, they will check your blood sugar level and inform you about which range it falls into: normal, Pre-diabetes or Diabetes.
Treatment of Diabetes
Management of Diabetes is dependent on the specific type of Diabetes diagnosed. In all cases though, diet and lifestyle changes can improve blood sugar levels and help control the disease – this includes avoiding foods and drinks high in sugar as well as avoiding excess carbohydrates and ensuring regular exercise and weight loss. Some individuals with well-controlled Diabetes are managed with only lifestyle changes and are not on medication. For those in need of medication however, there are a range of pills and different types of Insulin injections that are commonly prescribed.
There are many complications of uncontrolled Diabetes, as elevated blood sugar levels can cause damage to key organs and even lead to death. These are largely preventable by regular follow-up with a good primary care doctor, and sometimes a specialist called an Endocrinologist.
On April 7th 2016, make a pledge to eat healthier, exercise more and maintain a healthy weight – it will keep you feeling healthier, add longevity to your life and aid in the global effort to “BeatDiabetes!”
Working to keep you healthy,
Dr. Sade Adeyi MD, MPH
Consultant Family Physician
@yourprimarydoc on Instagram and Twitter
Statistics: World Health Organization