Diabetes is a chronic non-communicable disease, in which a person has high levels of blood glucose, either because the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, or it the body is unable to use the insulin that is produced in an effective manner.
There are two types of diabetes: diabetes type 1 and diabetes type 2. Type 1 diabetes often starts in childhood (unlike type 2 diabetes) and is a result of a lack of insulin production. The onset is abrupt and the symptoms can be severe, and can include a loss of consciousness if left untreated.
Type 2 diabetes is a chronic worldwide condition in both developed and developing countries. It is characterized by the body’s inability to use insulin effectively in order to help the body metabolise the sugar from the food we eat. Onset of symptoms can be gradual. It often is the result of excess weight and a lack of exercise. Gestational diabetes can sometimes occur during pregnancy.
Common symptoms of diabetes (both type 1 and 2) can include frequent urination, constantly feeling thirsty and hungry, extreme fatigue, blurry vision, slow wound healing, weight loss (type 1), tingling sensation in the hands and feet (type 2).
About 350 million people in the world are affected by diabetes. About 5 -10% of diabetics have type 1 diabetes and the rest type 2. Worldwide, one in every two adults with diabetes will be unaware of it. It is estimated that there are about 2 million people in South Africa with diabetes – less than half of which are diagnosed.
Insulin regulates blood sugar, but a lack of insulin prevents this glucose from getting into the cells and being burnt as energy, and then it builds up in the bloodstream, leading to high blood glucose levels.
The long-term effects of these high blood-glucose levels can be severe if left untreated: diabetes is the leading cause of cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, blindness and lower-limp amputation in the world. More than a third of people with diabetes (both types 1 and 2) will develop some form of damage to their eyes which could lead to becoming blind.
Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented. But healthy lifestyle choices can help prevent and treat type 2 diabetes. These include eating a healthy low-fat, high-fibre diet, getting at least 30 minutes of moderate physical exercise per day, and making an effort to lose excess weight.
Type 1 diabetics often have to inject insulin daily, which involves close monitoring of their blood glucose levels. Many type 2 diabetics can control diabetes by means of lifestyle changes, but it may also become necessary, if your blood glucose levels are not well controlled, to take medication and/or insulin.
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