Put simply, diabetes is the inability of the body to process sugars and starches properly. When we eat or drink our pancreas produces a hormone called insulin. Without sufficient insulin, body cells are unable to use glucose properly and blood levels of glucose rise, producing hyperglycemia, the major symptom of diabetes.

Excess levels of glucose and ketones (chemicals produced by the liver from fatty acids) can result in weakness, dizziness, and unconsciousness. Too little glucose (hypoglycemia) can produce similar symptoms. Both conditions are temporary and reversible.

Symptoms are thirst (polydipsia), increased urination, (polyuria), weight loss, constipation, tiredness, lack of energy, tingling or pins and needles in the hands or feet, blurred vision and increased infections.

There are three main types of diabetes:

1. Type 1 diabetes – no insulin is produced. Insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus affects 10% of diabetics. Generally develops in children and young adults and affects more males than females. Sometimes called juvenile-onset diabetes, it occurs when a person’s body cannot make the hormone insulin. Without insulin, the body cannot use the carbohydrates and sugars in food properly.

2. Type 2 diabetes – insulin is produced but the body becomes resistant to it. Non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus affects people who are more than 40 years old and overweight or obese. Sometimes called mild diabetes but it is just as serious as type 1 diabetes. The symptoms are similar to type 1 but may build up slowly. Diabetes specialists are very concerned at the rise in type 2 diabetes in young people. They are linking it to the big increase in the number of teenagers and young adults who are overweight or obese.

3. Gestational diabetes Diabetes that occurs during pregnancy is called gestational diabetes. If it happens during the first 12 weeks, it is probably likely that the woman had diabetes before she became pregnant. If it happens later in the pregnancy, it is more likely that her body cannot produce enough insulin for herself and the baby. Gestational diabetes usually goes away after the baby is born. But women who have had gestational diabetes are three times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes at some time of their life than those who have not had diabetes during pregnancy.

Uncontrolled diabetes and prolonged high blood sugar levels can, in later life, cause problems to many organs including the kidneys, eyes, nerves and the heart. High on the critical list for diabetics is the risk of serious eye disease and loss of vision.

Eye care professionals are predicting a devastating increase in vision loss as the diabetic epidemic grows alarmingly. Over 70% of our sensory information comes through our eyes.

High blood sugar can gradually damage the blood vessels at the back of the eye in the retina. This causes a problem called diabetic retinopathy and the longer you have diabetes the more likely you are to have retinopathy. More than 70% of diabetics develop some changes in their eyes within 15 years of diagnosis.

Non-proliferative retinopathy is the common mild form where small retinal blood vessels break and leak.

Proliferative retinopathy is more serious. New blood vessels grow abnormally within the retina. If these vessels scar or bleed they can lead to potentially serious vision loss including blindness.

Common circulatory complications include high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, reduced circulation to the limbs, kidney problems, and damage to the retina of the eye, sometimes causing blindness. People with diabetes are vulnerable to circulatory problems, which can narrow the coronary arteries, causing angina and increasing the risk of a heart attack.

Nerve-related complications include numbness, pain, and impotence. Damages to nerves and small blood vessels can cause numbness and lack of sensitivity to pain. As a result, you may be unaware of minor injuries, which then become infected. Uncontrolled diabetes can cause itching in the genital area. In men damage to the blood vessels supplying the penis can lead to impotence.

People with diabetes also have a reduced ability to fight infection, and they heal less quickly than do other people. People with high blood glucose levels are prone to cystitis, bladder and kidney infections, and diabetes can result in damage to small blood vessels.

Some of the steps a person with diabetes can take are:

1. Stabilize and control your blood sugar with diet.. A diet that controls weight establishes regular eating patterns, and helps control glucose concentrations in the blood. 2. Have a yearly diabetic eye examination.

3. Undertake regular exercise

4. Limit alcohol intake, regulate consumption of carbohydrates, and eat plenty of fibre rich foods.

By following the above guidelines, a person with diabetes can expect to live a relatively normal and productive life. Your health care specialist will be your best ally and should be consulted whenever you have any concerns about your diabetes or your treatment.

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