World Diabetes Day takes place every November 14, and this year’s theme is all about access to diabetes care. But what exactly is diabetes and how do we know we’re at risk? Here’s a simple explanation.
The biology bit
Insulin is the hormone that regulates blood glucose levels and can cause complications if it isn’t working correctly. People who have diabetes experience high blood sugar levels because their body either makes too little insulin or doesn’t use it properly. During digestion, food is broken down into glucose which then gets released into the bloodstream. The body either absorbs glucose into cells or stores it for use at a later time. Insulin’s role is to guide glucose for use in cells or storage. The pancreas releases the right amount of insulin depending on how much glucose is in the bloodstream. However, with diabetics, insulin is unable to properly regulate glucose, and this causes it to remain in the bloodstream, something that is extremely harmful to the body.
What are the main types of Diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks insulin-producing cells in the pancreas and therefore the body cannot produce enough insulin. The cause is generally put down to genetic factors.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t use insulin effectively enough to regulate blood sugar levels. It can occur due to genetics and also bad lifestyle choices such as not maintaining a healthy weight or not getting enough physical inactivity.
Prediabetes comes before type 2 diabetes develops. This is when blood sugar, blood pressure, and insulin resistance can be seen climbing to harmful levels.
What are the main causes?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), here are the main risk factors for diabetes:
- Genetics, family health history, certain ethnic backgrounds
- Physical inactivity
- An unhealthy diet
- Certain hormone disorders
- Having certain diseases
Diabetes can lead to serious health complications without treatment, such as heart disease or stroke. So be sure to keep healthy and active and watch for any symptoms.
What should I look out for?
There are a number of symptoms of Diabetes, and they vary depending on the type and cause of the illness. Here are some common symptoms to look out for:
- Frequent fatigue
- Blurry vision
- Frequent thirst and urination
- Feeling hungry
- Numb hands and feet
- Slow healing sores
- Dramatic weight loss
What can we do?
The good news is prediabetes is reversible through lifestyle changes and treatments. For those with Type 2, lifestyle changes that include a healthier diet and increased physical activity are necessary. Many will also require oral medication and may eventually need insulin. There is currently no cure for type 1 diabetes. Regular insulin medication helps manage symptoms and reduce the risk of complications. It’s an unfortunate fact that even after a century of insulin being discovered, there are still millions of people with diabetes that cannot access it. People who have diabetes also require continuous care and support to help them manage their condition and avoid any complications.