Sugars in your body are processed with insulin, which is a chemical produced in the pancreas. For people with diabetes, the body is unable to control its blood glucose levels, causing the body to underproduce or not produce insulin, or cells to become resistant to insulin.
In New Zealand, over 260,000 people live with diabetes but if unmanaged, diabetes can be life threatening.
People with diabetes are susceptible to other health conditions, like kidney failure, foot ulceration, eye disease, heart disease, and infection.
Types of diabetes
Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is less common than type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is when your body does not produce insulin, and is usually diagnosed in childhood. It is considered an autoimmune condition and cannot be prevented. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks the pancreas, which is where insulin is produced. This must be managed with insulin therapy, which is where insulin is injected or pumped into the body.
Type 2 diabetes
People can develop type 2 diabetes at any stage in their life. This type of diabetes develops because your body does not produce enough insulin, or your cells become resistant to insulin. It is often associated with being overweight. Type 2 diabetes develops gradually but can be prevented or delayed if you are diagnosed with pre-diabetes first. Pre-diabetes is when your blood glucose levels are higher than normal but are not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes.
To prevent and manage type 2 diabetes, Diabetes NZ recommends reducing your weight, doing at least 30 minutes of activity a day, eating healthily, maintaining good control of your blood pressure and cholesterol, and annual heart and diabetes checks.
Symptoms and diagnosis
Undiagnosed diabetes can be noticed with physical symptoms, although in type 2 diabetes these symptoms often develop gradually. You may have diabetes if you notice any of the following symptoms:
- Frequent urination
- Excessive or constant thirst
- Excessive eating or hunger
- Unexplained weight loss
- Fatigue and weakness
- Blurred vision
- Vaginal or oral thrush
If you think you have these symptoms or may have diabetes, see your doctor. To diagnose diabetes, your doctor will take blood tests. A random blood glucose test will be taken to check your blood glucose level at a random time. A fasting blood glucose test will be taken after you have stopped eating for an extended period. A test may also be taken for glycosylated haemoglobin (Hb1Ac), which measures your average blood glucose level for the past 2-3 months.
There are several ways to manage diabetes. It is important to talk with your doctor to see what works for you. The aim of diabetes treatment is to keep blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible and to prevent complications. Some common treatments for diabetes include insulin therapy, blood glucose monitoring, eating a specific diet, and maintaining a healthy bodyweight.
People with type 1 diabetes will be reliant on insulin therapy, and for some people with type 2 diabetes this may also be a viable treatment option. Insulin therapy keeps blood sugar levels in a healthy range by frequently being injected into the fat under your skin. It can be injected with a syringe, an insulin pen, or an insulin pump. Your doctor will discuss with you what the best option for diabetes management will be for you.
Insulin therapy must be carefully monitored because it can lead to hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) if too much insulin is injected. Because insulin doses need to be calculated based on intake, it can be difficult to calculate how much insulin to take. Symptoms of hypoglycaemia include shakiness, weakness, heart palpitations, irritability, and impaired cognition.
Blood glucose monitoring
People with type 1 diabetes, and some people with type 2 diabetes, need to check their blood glucose levels regularly to ensure their levels are not too high or low. If you are dependent on insulin therapy, you will need to check your blood glucose levels several times a day to ensure you take the correct dose of insulin.
Diet and exercise
Eating a diet that is high in fibre and low in fat can help manage type 2 diabetes. Alcohol consumption should also be reduced because it has high sugar levels. Getting regular exercise will help lower blood glucose levels and improve your weight.
You can lessen your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Being active for at least 30 minutes a day
- Eating a healthy and balanced diet
- Avoiding smoking and reducing alcohol
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