Why you, at any age, should know about diabetes
Rising cases of obesity, unhealthy diets and inactive lifestyles have made diabetes a major public health problem in Egypt and the Middle East.
This chronic disease has no cure and is striking at younger people all the time. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 180 million people worldwide, nearly three million of them in Egypt, have diabetes and that this is likely to more than double by 2030.
Diabetes (formally called diabetes mellitus) is the inability of the pancreas, an organ in your body, to produce or properly use insulin, which is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life. This metabolic disorder is characterized by hyperglycemia – an excessive amount of glucose in the blood plasma – and in both type 1 and 2 diabetes comes from a malfunction in the insulin supply.
The main two kinds of diabetes are called, helpfully, type 1 and type 2. (Gestational diabetes is a lesser-known type that affects pregnant women.)
Type 1 diabetes, also called juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, is first diagnosed in children, teenagers, or young adults. With this form of diabetes, some cells of the pancreas can’t make insulin because the body’s immune system has attacked and destroyed them.
Type 1 diabetes affects the immune system and appears to be partly due to genetic susceptibility as well as environmental factors. A person diagnosed with type 1 may have little or no history of it in the family. Type 1 diabetes is also more prevalent in Caucasians, and is usually diagnosed before the age of 25, making it the most common type of diabetes in children in the west. People with type 1 diabetes must take daily insulin injections, make wise food choices, be physically active, control blood pressure and watch their cholesterol.
Type 2 diabetes, also called adult-onset diabetes or non-insulin-dependent diabetes, is the most common form of diabetes and, despite the name, can be developed at any age. It usually begins with insulin resistance, meaning the fat, muscle, and liver cells do not use insulin properly, and over time the overworked pancreas loses the ability to secrete enough insulin. Being overweight and inactive increases the chances of developing type 2 diabetes. Treatment includes using diabetes medicines, and following many of the type 1 precautions like making wise food choices, being physically active, and controlling blood pressure and cholesterol.
However, type 2 diabetes is usually hereditary, and often occurs in those who are overweight or obese. It may be triggered by lifestyle factors like a lack of exercise and an unhealthy diet, but there is also evidence that it may run in families too.
Frequently, there are no warning signs for diabetes, but some people may experience excessive thirst, frequent hunger, excessive urination, weight loss, difficulties with vision, drowsiness or exhaustion.
Diabetes can be diagnosed if there is recurrent or persistent hyperglycemia. This can be determined through plasma glucose levels in the blood. And if you think your diabetes isn’t bad enough to need treatment, or that you’re exempt somehow because you don’t need to take insulin; if you don t have symptoms, you may not feel like you have the disease. However, treating diabetes prevents life-threatening medical conditions and serious long-term health problems.
Problems from diabetes are far less common and severe in people who have well-controlled blood sugar levels. Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure and leaving it untreated also means risking blindness and neural damage. Aside from accidents, diabetes is the most frequent cause of lower limb amputations and diabetics face a much higher risk of heart disease and stroke.
Little is known about how type 1 diabetes develops, so there are no preventive measures for it. The good news it that there are steps you can take to reduce your chances of developing type 2 diabetes. First, make sure you are including as much activity in your day as possible, light exercise – as light as walking 30 minutes or more each day will help. Take the stairs instead of the lift whenever you can and get off your bus, or out of your cab, an extra street or two away from your destination.
Healthy eating is also important. Keeping your weight within a normal range lowers your risk of diabetes. Getting your blood glucose level checked is essential and it’s advisable to get regular cholesterol level checks. If you have a family history of diabetes, it s important to talk to your family, and your doctor, about your life situation.
Though all parents should talk to their children about avoiding tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs, this is particularly critical for children with diabetes. Smoking and diabetes each increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and people with diabetes who smoke have a greatly increased risk of heart disease and circulatory problems.
Excessive alcohol consumption, particularly when drinking too much too quickly (sometimes referred to as binge drinking) can cause acute hyperglycemia. The symptoms of intoxication are very similar to the symptoms of hypoglycemia, and thus, may result in any hypoglycemia going untreated.
And Egyptians are at high risk for diabetes – caused by excess weight, fatty foods and lack of exercise – as Egyptian metabolism has over the centuries adapted to a frugal diet and a hard-working lifestyle. And don’t forget you will simply have more energy and feel physically better if your diabetes is properly treated. The lifestyle changes you make will help you live a long and healthy life.