Diabetes affects people of all ages and health backgrounds and the number of cases worldwide is now considered an epidemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Diabetes occurs when the sugar level in the blood is too high due to a lack of a hormone called insulin. Because of the insulin deficiency, the body does not burn carbohydrates properly.
The disease has two forms.
Type 1 diabetes – once known as insulin dependent diabetes – usually affects younger people. It is usually diagnosed before the age of 35. A sufferer cannot make insulin so must have regular insulin injections to regulate blood sugar levels.
With type 2 diabetes, the sufferer does make some insulin in the body. However, the insulin may not work properly or not sufficiently to keep sugar levels healthy. This condition is prevalent in people who are overweight and the disease may respond to weight loss. However, this may not be sufficient and sufferers may require tablets or additional insulin to properly moderate sugar levels.
At your age, you are more at risk of suffering Type 2 diabetes. A family history of diabetes does increase the risk factor. Excess weight and a lack of physical exercise also make you vulnerable to the condition. One study showed about 55 percent of type 2 diabetes patients are obese at diagnosis.
In another study, non-smokers with high levels of physical activity and a healthy diet and who consumed alcohol in moderation had an 82% lower rate of diabetes.
Other factors that can cause type 2 diabetes include hypertension, high cholesterol, metabolic syndrome, chronic pancreatitis and cancer.
Your risk level increases with age as glucose tolerance progressively declines as we get older.
The HSE estimate that 200,000 Irish people suffer from diabetes, many of whom are unaware they have the disease. There is an average of seven years between onset and diagnosis and many people are diagnosed only when they suffer a related medical episode.
Note too that there are another estimated 200,000 people in Ireland with pre-diabetes. These have impaired tolerance to glucose and will develop full diabetes within five years unless they make changes to their diet and lifestyle.
The onset of type 2 diabetes is gradual and therefore hard to detect. Symptoms that may alert you to get checked for diabetes include:
- Lack of energy
- Recurring infections
- Excessive thirst
- Frequent passing of urine
- Hunger and eating more
- Weight loss despite increased diet
- Blurred vision
- Head aches and pains
Less common symptoms include:
- Impotence (in a male)
- Vaginal yeast infections (in a female)
- Slow healing of cuts
The earlier you detect the disease, the easier it will be to manage. There are serious related conditions if type 2 diabetes is allowed go untreated or unchecked. These include vision loss, kidney failure, nerve damage and an increased risk of strokes and heart attacks.
If properly treated and managed, you can live a normal life with diabetes. But your best bet is to avoid it by avoiding obesity and taking regular exercise. If you haven’t exercised in a while, talk to your doctor first to assess what you are capable of safely doing.
You should also avoid foods that cause high rises in blood sugar and eat a normal, healthy diet. For more information about diabetes, visit hse.ie.