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Diabetes: symptoms, types, and more

Diabetes: Symptoms, Types, and Management | Live Great | Great Eastern Life

As one of the most common chronic conditions, diabetes is sometimes called a 'lifestyle' disease because it is brought on by poor diets and little exercise. Here's what you need to know about managing diabetes.

What is diabetes?
The medical term, 'Diabetes Mellitus' comes from the Greek diabetes (to pass through) and the Latin mellitus (sweet as honey).

Commonly referred to as diabetes, it is a condition in which the body lacks or cannot produce a hormone to process glucose into energy, causing the sugars to build up in the bloods. There are two types of diabetes:

Type 1 diabetes (youth-onset diabetes)
The body cannot produce insulin – a hormone that processes glucose to energy – at all. People with Type 1 diabetes require daily insulin injections to help the body use and store glucose.

Type 2 diabetes (adult-onset or non-insulin requiring diabetes)
While insulin production is normal, the cells of the body cannot respond to the insulin produced by the pancreas. This insulin resistance results in a high level of sugar in the blood.

Dangers of diabetes
Diabetes is one of the most devastating chronic diseases in the world because the condition leads to many co-morbidities or complications. In diabetes, the long periods of excessive glucose in the blood affect the blood vessels in the whole body, particularly those in the eyes, nerves, kidneys and heart.

Diabetes-related conditions and complications include:

  • Heart disease
  • Kidney failure 
  • Gangrene leading to amputation
  • Diabetic retinopathy leading to blindness
  • Stroke
  • Poor healing
  • Nerve damage
  • Skin rashes

Risk factors for diabetes
Diabetes prevention and management boils down to a healthy lifestyle that includes keeping a healthy weight, regular exercise and a balanced diet. Obesity is one of the biggest risk factors that lead to diabetes, but a small 10 per cent reduction in body weight can halve the risk of diabetes. Key risk factors include:

  • Obesity
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • A diet high in fat, simple carbohydrates and sugars, insufficient wholegrains and fibre
  • Family history of diabetes
  • Age
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol

Signs of diabetes include:

  • Requent urination and thirst
  •  Weakness and fatigue
  • Tingling or numbness in hands, legs or feet
  • Blurred vision
  • Dry itchy skin
  • Frequent infection
  • Slow healing of cuts and bruises

Managing diabetes
One of the central components of managing diabetes is controlling your blood sugar levels. Keeping your blood sugar levels within a healthy range prevents complications from developing.

Generally speaking, a diabetes management plan looks at controlling your blood sugar levels via three areas: diet, exercise and medications.

Diet and diabetes
What you eat, when you eat and how much you eat all affects the level of blood sugar. A good diabetes meal plan should comprise these elements:

Well-balanced nutrition: Eat your carbohydrates, veggies and proteins in balanced amounts. Carbohydrates and simple sugars have the biggest impact on your blood sugar levels. Choose wholegrains wherever possible – they are less likely to cause 'spikes' in your blood sugar. Be sure your meals include at least two servings of vegetables and/or fruit.

Regular meals: Eating the same amount of food at the same times everyday help to keep your blood sugar levels constant. Regular eating is also important to help you coordinate your medications with your meals to prevent blood sugar levels from dangerous fluctuations.

Exercise and diabetes
Physical activity is an important part of a diabetes management plan. Exercise uses up sugar (glucose) in the blood and lowers your blood sugar level. Regular activity also enhances the body's ability to use insulin. Everyday activities such as housework, gardening or walking as well as exercise like jogging, swimming, cycling can lower your blood sugar level.

Regular exercise also keeps your weight in check and may help you trim down. Any weight loss benefits you and lowers the risk and severity of diabetes and its complications.

Medication and diabetes
Compliance with your medication regime is essential in managing diabetes and preventing complications. Always take your medications at the same time everyday and at the prescribed dose. Follow instructions on whether to take medicines with food or before meals. Your drug regime is specially tailored to help regulate your blood sugar level. Prepare a diabetes checklist to assist you in keeping things in order!

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