Diabetes: Six things you should know


Diabetes is a manageable but incurable disease that affects around 1.7 million Australians. According to Diabetes Australia it’s “the epidemic of the 21st century”, with one Australian developing the condition every five minutes. That’s more than 100,000 Australians who have developed diabetes in the past year.

1. Diabetes is marked by high blood sugar

People with diabetes have high levels of blood glucose, or blood sugar. This is because the body isn’t making enough insulin, which would normally lower blood sugar levels, or because the body’s cells don’t respond properly to the insulin that is being made. Without insulin, the body’s cells can’t turn sugar into energy.

Diabetes sufferers can check their sugar levels using a blood glucose monitor kit. This smart little device analyses a drop of blood taken from their fingertip and lets them know if their blood glucose levels are too high, too low, or just right.

2. There are three main types

Type 1 diabetes isn’t associated with lifestyle factors. You either have it, or you don’t. Although people with type 1 can have very happy, active, normal lives, they will always remain reliant on daily insulin injections to control their blood sugar levels.

Type 2 accounts for 90% of all diabetes, and is a little more complex than type 1. Things like your weight, age, and how much exercise you do can have an impact on whether or not you develop diabetes and, if you do, how it can be treated. There are even studies that suggest that making lifestyle changes can reverse type 2 diabetes completely.

The third kind of diabetes is known as gestational diabetes. It’s associated with pregnancy and usually disappears when the baby is born, but it can develop into type 2 diabetes in both the mother and the baby later in life. Some women need insulin to manage their gestational diabetes, while others can manage it by making changes to diet and exercise.

3. It can affect anyone

While type 1 diabetes is more common in people under 30, and type 2 usually occurs later in life, either type can affect anyone at any age.

Again, type 2 is the more complex of the two types of diabetes. Type 2 can run in the family, but it’s not the only risk factor. Things like diet, blood pressure, and even ethnicity can increase your chance of developing diabetes. And although type 2 diabetes is most commonly associated with people who are overweight, sedentary, and over 45 years of age, it can also affect people who are young and fit.

4. The complications can be serious

Left untreated, diabetes can cause serious, life-altering or life-threatening complications.

The disease can cause foot ulcers and lower limb wounds, which can eventually lead to amputation. And according to Bayer Australia, diabetes is the leading cause of preventable blindness is Australia. There’s also an increased risk of wider health problems such as kidney failure, coronary heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers such as pancreatic and uterine cancer.

The good news is that, with the right treatment and daily insulin injections, these complications are preventable.

5. Know the symptoms

It’s estimated that around 500,000 Australians don’t know they’re diabetic. That’s because some of the diabetes symptoms are very mild, and it’s even possible to have no symptoms at all.

In other cases, symptoms can come on suddenly and severely. With type 1 diabetes, for example, it’s common for the sufferer to collapse and require immediate hospital treatment. In other cases, symptoms seem to linger after an illness, and can therefore be mistakenly dismissed as part and parcel of the flu.

Because diabetes is such a complex condition, symptoms and severity can vary from person to person. Here are some of the more common warning signs:

  • excessive thirst
  • frequent urination
  • always feeling hungry
  • feeling tired and lethargic
  • cuts that heal slowly
  • skin infections and itching
  • blurred vision
  • gradual weight gain
  • leg cramps
  • mood swings
  • headaches, and
  • dizziness.

If you experience any of these symptoms, speak to your GP immediately. They will be able to use your medical history, blood tests and a physical exam to reach a diagnosis.

Not everyone who has these symptoms has diabetes, but it’s always worth checking. Even if it’s only one or two mild symptoms that you’re concerned about, a quick visit to your GP or Practice Nurse for a check-up and further advice will help put your mind at ease.

6. It’s not all doom and gloom

While diabetes can be a life-threatening condition, it doesn’t have to be. People who keep on top of their insulin injections and follow their doctor’s advice about any recommended lifestyle changes can have as active and fulfilling lives as anyone else.

And there are plenty of famous people to prove it. Just look at Rod Kafer, a former Wallaby player, whose type 1 diabetes diagnosis at the age of 15 did nothing to hold him back from becoming an international athlete. Then there’s Marcia Hines, who conquered the Australian music industry along with type 1 diabetes. And what about Tom Hanks, winner of the Oscar for Best Actor two years running, who recently revealed that he has type 2 diabetes.


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