Diabetes is a serious health risk that is increasingly affecting Africa, as people’s lifestyles become more sedentary and they move away from traditional foods and diets. As the threat of the disease grows, the need for education and awareness becomes more vital. In response, November 14 has been designated as World Diabetes Day (WDD). Led by the International Diabetes Federation, WDD aims to unite the global diabetes community to produce a powerful voice for diabetes awareness. The numbers speak for themselves. Approximately 387 million adults have diabetes; by 2035 the federation expects this to rise to 592 million. The World Health Organization estimated that 9% of adults 18 years and older had diabetes last year. Its figures show that the disease caused 1.5 million deaths in 2012, with more than 80% of those deaths occurring in low- and middleincome countries. The organisation projects that diabetes will be the seventh leading cause of death by 2030. The proportion of people with type 2 diabetes is increasing in most countries and yet there is a lot of evidence that this disease can be prevented by simple lifestyle changes. Diabetes is a serious condition and it has been linked to a number of other serious diseases. The complications of uncontrolled blood sugar levels can be severe, including cardiovascular disease, blindness, kidney failure and lower limb amputation. It’s very important for diabetes to be diagnosed as early as possible because it becomes much worse if it is not treated.

What is diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs either when the body does not produce enough insulin or when it cannot use the insulin it produces effectively. Insulin is an important hormone that regulates blood sugar. It helps cells to take in glucose to be used for energy. Uncontrolled diabetes leads to too much blood sugar (hyperglycaemia) and, in the long run, damages your body.

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is the more serious, but less common form of the disease. Around 5% of people with diabetes have type 1. It is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, although it can happen at any age. It affects men and women equally. Your body does not produce insulin with type 1, so you will need to inject yourself on a daily basis. Type 1 is not preventable. Its cause is not fully understood, but doctors believe your genes may play a role. It is treatable – insulin therapy and other treatments assist children and adults to manage the disease and lead healthy, long lives. However, if you don’t keep your type 1 diabetes under control, serious, lifethreatening health issues can arise.

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 is the most common form of diabetes, comprising over 90% of people with the disease. It was initially found only in adults, but now it is also manifesting in children. In type 2, your body does not use insulin properly. This is known as insulin resistance. At first, your pancreas makes extra insulin but it cannot keep this up and eventually it fails to make enough to keep your blood glucose at normal levels. When glucose doesn’t go into your cells but stays in the blood, your cells become starved of energy. High blood glucose leads to health problems particularly with your heart, nerves, eyes and kidneys. Type 2 is caused by a number of things that include your genes, but it is mostly associated with being overweight. If you can keep your blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol in check, you may be able to delay or even prevent problems. Some people can control their blood glucose levels with healthy eating and exercise, but others may need additional medication. Your doctor will help you find a plan that works for you. Either way, simple changes can make a big difference. Doctors will recommend looking at the following areas:

  • Losing weight – you can cut your risk of type 2 diabetes in half by dropping just 7% to 10% of your weight
  • Exercising – even 30 minutes of activity can reduce your risk by nearly one third
  • Eating well – avoid the usual bad things like sugary drinks, trans and saturated fats and processed carbs
  • Giving up smoking.

Gestational diabetes

Some women may have high levels of blood glucose – above normal but below what is diagnosed as diabetes – in their body during pregnancy. Known as gestational diabetes, it can increase the risk of health problems during pregnancy and at delivery. It also increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. It usually develops during the second trimester of pregnancy – weeks 14 to 26 – and disappears after the baby is born.

Symptoms diabetes

The main symptoms of diabetes can include:

  • Feeling very thirsty
  • Feeling very hungry
  • Feeling very tired
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Blurry vision
  • Frequent urination
  • Frequent infections of the skin, urinary tract, or vagina
  • Wounds that don’t heal

The symptoms of type 1 and 2 are similar, but usually less severe in type 2. It is important to visit your doctor as soon as possible if you experience the above symptoms.

Get physical

Regular exercise helps manage a wide range of ailments, both physical and mental. In the case of diabetes, it specifically assists by lowering your blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol. Exercise is an important part of treating both type 1 and 2 diabetes. Type 2 is often associated with being overweight, so it’s important to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. Type 1, however, needs more careful planning, as you need to balance your insulin dose and food with any activity. You can make a difference with any form of activity. For example, walk rather than drive where possible and take the stairs rather than the lift.