Diabetes symptoms, risk factors and management
Diabetes – the fastest growing chronic condition in Australia
As a nation, diabetes is a growing issue. Not only are more people being diagnosed, but it is costing more financially, leading to more hospital admissions and procedures for complications (such as amputations – over 4,400 per year due to diabetes!)
Diabetes has the dubious honour of being the fastest-growing chronic condition in Australia. The stats don’t make for happy reading, so we’ve just picked out a couple of them below (as at July 2019) to highlight the sheer size of the problem.
What’s the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes?
There are actually quite a few differences between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, including how they come about:
Type 1 is an autoimmune disease. That means that the immune system is attacking parts of the body by mistake (in this case beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin).
Type 2 is different. It isn’t attack on the beta cells, but rather the body losing the ability to respond to insulin – insulin resistance. The body responds by producing more insulin, but gets to the point where the beta cells just can’t keep up, so they give up under the strain, leading to less insulin production.
There is no hard and fast rules surrounding the diagnosis and treatment of diabetes because symptoms can vary from patient to patient. One thing we can say is that both types are characterised by higher than normal blood sugar levels.
There are actually quite a number of types of diabetes (beyond 1 and 2) but one other we’ll quickly touch on is gestational diabetes.
This occurs when blood glucose levels are high during pregnancy, for a variety of reasons, including hormonal changes and the growing demands of the foetus.
Generally you are tested for gestational diabetes in the second trimester. It can be managed during the pregnancy, and usually goes away after the birth (but you then have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life).
Type 2 diabetes is far more prevalent these days, so we’re going to focus more on that for the rest of this article.
What are the risk factors for Type 2 diabetes?
It’s not entirely clear why some people get type 2 diabetes when others don’t, but there are some factors that increase the risk:
- Being overweight
- Being inactive
- Family history – if a parent or sibling suffers
- Race – in particular Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, black and Hispanic
- Increased age – but diagnoses are up for younger people too
- Having had gestational diabetes
- Having polycystic ovary syndrome
- Having high blood pressure – over 140/90 Having abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels – i.e. low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol/high levels of triglycerides – we can arrange these tests for you.
As you can see, some factors you can’t change, but some you can. Losing excess weight through healthy eating choices and getting more exercise can help prevent type 2 diabetes (and improve your health in general – win-win!)
The complications (it’s a long list!)
OK, I might have diabetes, but it won’t lead to anything else will it?
Unfortunately, it might.
There’s a long list of complications that may develop from diabetes, particularly if you’ve had it a long time, and it hasn’t been well-controlled:
- Cardiovascular disease – your risk of heart disease or stroke is higher
- Nerve damage (neuropathy) – Excess sugar can damage the capillaries, causing numbness or pain starting from the tip of your toes or fingers. It can lead to a loss of sensation in your limbs (and for men…erectile dysfunction).
- Kidney damage (nephropathy) – Diabetes affects your kidney’s ability to filter waste from your blood. In some cases this damage can cause kidney failure or kidney disease, leading to the need for dialysis or transplant.
- Eye damage (retinopathy) – Again, diabetes can damage blood vessels, and around your eye that can lead to blindness. You’re also more at risk of cataracts and glaucoma.
- Foot damage – Poor blood flow to the feet, or nerve damage means cuts and blisters don’t heal properly, and can lead to amputation.
- Skin conditions – Such as bacterial and fungal infections
- Hearing impairment – Problems with hearing are more prevalent in those who have diabetes.
- Alzheimer’s disease – Diabetes may increase your risk of dementia.
Wow! That’s not a very nice list! Diabetes is enough to deal with without throwing in some of these complications, and this list shows how important it is to keep on top of management of your diabetes. You certainly want to book an appointment well before you have to deal with anything on this list.
So now I know all about diabetes. But do I have it?
Some people with Type 2 diabetes display no symptoms as all, and some that do display symptoms might put these down to something else.
If you have any of these, make an appointment and we’ll talk you through it:
- Being excessively thirsty or hungry
- Passing more urine
- Unexplained weight loss or gain
- Feeling tired and lethargic
- Elevated blood pressure
- Numbness or tingling in hands or feet
- Blurred vision
- High blood sugar
- Sexual dysfunction
It’s especially important to have a chat if you have any of these and also have other risk factors such as being overweight or obese, undertaking limited physical activity or have a family history.
We hope you’ve found our information about diabetes useful. If you believe any of your friends or family might need to know this information, we’d encourage you to get them to book an appointment as well.