All you ever need to know about diabetes

Cases of Diabetes mellitus are rising across the world. The disease occurs when the body has no insulin or when it cannot use all the insulin produced. Developing nations like Kenya are experiencing a drastic upsurge of cases compared to developed countries in the last 20 years. The World Health Organisation ranked diabetes seventh among the top ten killers in 2016.

Data on diabetes patients in Kenya are scarce and inaccurate. The Kenya National Diabetes Strategy 2010-2015 estimated that more than 3.3 percent of the country’s population suffers from the disease. In fact, 60 percent of those diagnosed had no idea they had the disease.

So how would one know they or a relative is predisposed to diabetes?

Who is most likely to get diabetes?

The low levels of diagnoses show that many people have little or no information about the sickness. This results in misconceptions about who can get it and leads to late diagnosis. Diabetes affects people of all ages but with varying frequency and severity. The following groups of people should be more attentive to the body:

  • A family with diabetes history.
  • People past middle-age
  • Persons with a BMI higher than 25.
  • People who lead lifestyles with little physical activity.
  • Anyone who consumes alcohol, saturated fat, or processed carbohydrates.

The frequency of diabetes in these groups is high especially in urban areas. Research showed that out of the 9.3 percent of people (422 million people) that had diabetes in 2014 in the world, 8.5 percent were over 18 years.

Bad diets and lack of physical exercise, urbanization, and globalization are important factors. Many people today work long hours seated in front of computers, watch tv, play computer games, and use motorised transport hence limiting body exercise.

At this point, you realise that anyone can get diabetes. Getting tested should be a priority.

The signs and symptoms of diabetes

While there are different types of diabetes mellitus, the symptoms are more or less similar. The common signs of diabetes are:

  • Feeling extremely thirsty
  • Frequent urination
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme hunger pangs
  • Loss of vision
  • Impotence or lack of sexual excitement
  • Numbness or tingling sensation in the feet
  • High irritability

It is advisable to take a diabetes test even when not showing these signs.

What are the types and causes of diabetes?

Diabetes screening will help you understand the condition you have. The most common types are:

  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM)

What is Type 1 diabetes?

Other names for Type 1 diabetes mellitus are Autoimmune diabetes, Insulin-dependent diabetes, and Juvenile diabetes. It affects both children and adults. Current data show that it accounts for 10-15 percent of diabetes patients. 

This type is autoimmune because it occurs when the defence system attacks and destroys the pancreatic cells that produce insulin. Insulin helps the body regulate, process and absorb blood sugar. Without the hormone, blood sugar rises to abnormal levels damaging blood vessels, nerves, and other body organs, eventually causing death. 

There is no known prevention for Type 1 diabetes. You can only manage it through the daily injection of insulin. The symptoms also appear abruptly and are more pronounced than in Type 2 diabetes.

What is Type 2 diabetes?

This is the commonest type of diabetes accounting for 85 percent of all cases according to the International Diabetes Federation. The exact cause is unknown. It highly occurs in obese or overweight people and persons with poor health habits. It can also run in a family. 

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body is unable to use insulin. Despite it being the most common, diagnosis in most patients happens when it is too late. Symptoms are not as pronounced as in Type 1.

What is Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM)?

As the name suggests, gestational diabetes affects pregnant women. Research shows it occurs in 4 percent of pregnant women in Kenya. The patient has blood sugar levels above normal but below that of diagnostic diabetes.

GDM is the result of either the body being unable to use all the insulin or when insulin is not enough for the pregnancy. Even though GDM disappears after the pregnancy, the mother and child have a higher risk of getting Type 2 diabetes.

Other types of diabetes

There are other uncommon categories of diabetes. They include:

  • Drug-induced diabetes
  • Monogenic diabetes
  • Pancreatic disease.

The many forms of diabetes make people mistake its signs and symptoms for those of other diseases.

How and where to screen for diabetes in Kenya

Diagnosing diabetes in Kenya is a challenge since most health facilities lack the required equipment for early detection. Little screening is done specifically for the disease and other noncommunicable diseases. This, coupled with general public ignorance either brings about accidental detection or late diagnosis.

Over two-thirds of people with diabetes in Africa have no idea they have it. Most only go for screening when prompted by obvious signs and symptoms.

Pregnant mothers should make sure to screen for GDM during prenatal visits.

The Kenya National Diabetic Strategy 2010-2015 aimed to inform and influence government policy for timely interventions. It is now possible to get diabetes screening at clinics near you. Sophisticated diagnostic technology has reduced the time for getting accurate results to as little as ten minutes.

Quick diabetes prevention and management tips

There is nothing you can do to prevent Type 1 diabetes. This type is managed through regular administration of insulin. However, you can prevent Type 2 diabetes by adopting healthy habits. Here are some recommendations:

  1. The best way to manage diabetes is through proper nutrition. Eat healthy foods with low fat and cholesterol and avoid refined carbohydrates. Prioritise natural foods and limit manufactured foods and drinks with sugar additives. Studies show that whole-grain foods and white meat are healthier compared to red processed meat.
  2. Avoid or limit drinking alcohol.
  3. Test for diabetes early before symptoms appear.
  4. Avoid inactive lifestyles. If your work requires sitting for long hours, always make time for the gym or physical exercise.
  5. Family history is crucial. Do early screening if diabetes has previously occurred in your family.
  6. If pregnant make sure to test for GDM during initial prenatal visits. Follow expert directions to prevent complications for you and your child.
  7. If diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, administer insulin every day. For Type 2 diabetes, buy diabetes test strips to help you know your blood sugar level at any time.
  8. Join support groups such as the Diabetes Kenya Association.

How diabetes can impact your health when mismanaged

The biggest worry whenever diabetes is mentioned is the effects on both person and family. Complications associated with the illness take a toll on both the body of the patient and the finances of the family.

Some of the effects of diabetes mellitus are:

  • Kidney failure due to damaged blood vessels.
  • Cardiovascular diseases due to high blood pressure leading to heart attack and stroke. They are responsible for most diabetes related deaths.
  • Nerve disease which causes erectile dysfunction, damage of body tissues, and loss of feeling. Inability to feel mostly occurs in the toes and feet. This leads to amputations because injuries go unnoticed and infect the body part.
  • Blurry vision or blindness can occur due to high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
  • Pregnancy complications for women with GDM can cause organ damage in the mother and foetus.
  • Loss of teeth due to high blood sugar.

Always remember that the commonest type of diabetes can be prevented through living a healthy life full of physical activity and exercise. If you care for your body, it will care for you.