National Diabetes Week, which runs from July 11-17, offers us a timely reminder to learn about diabetes, the symptoms, and how to support others living with the disease.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, an estimated 1.2 million Australians (some 4.9% of the total population) had diabetes in 2017–18, based on self-reported data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2017–18 National Health Survey.
What is diabetes
Diabetes is a serious complex condition which can affect the entire body. When someone has diabetes, their body cannot maintain healthy levels of glucose in the blood. Glucose is a form of sugar and is the main source of energy for our bodies.
For our bodies to work properly we need to convert glucose from food into energy. The hormone insulin is needed for the conversion of glucose into energy. In people with diabetes however, insulin is no longer produced or it is not produced in the amounts the body requires. Or insulin is produced but does not work effectively.
Unhealthy levels of glucose in the blood can lead to long term and short-term health complications, such as mental and emotional health impacts, and serious medical problems such as kidney failure or blindness.
Types of diabetes
The different types of diabetes are below, as described by Diabetes Australia.
- Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system is activated to destroy the cells in the pancreas which produce insulin. It is unknown what causes the reaction and it is not linked to modifiable lifestyle factors. There is no cure and it can not be prevented.
- Type 2 diabetes of often a progressive condition in which the body becomes resistant to the normal effects of insulin and/or gradually loses the capacity to produce enough insulin in the pancreas. It is unknown what causes type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is associated with modifiable lifestyle risk factors. Some people may be able to significantly slow the progression of the condition through changes to diet and increasing the amount of physical activity they do. Type 2 diabetes also has strong genetic and family-related risk factors.
- Gestational diabetes mellitus (sometimes referred to as GDM) is a form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. Most women will no longer have diabetes after the baby is born. However, some women will continue to have high blood glucose levels after delivery. It is diagnosed when higher than normal blood glucose levels first appear during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes is the fastest growing type of diabetes in Australia, affecting thousands of pregnant women. All pregnant women should be tested for gestational diabetes at 24-28 weeks of pregnancy (except those women who already have diabetes). Women who have risk factors for gestational diabetes should be tested earlier.
It is important to note that all types of diabetes are complex and require daily care and management. Diabetes can also affect anyone.
In type 1 diabetes, symptoms are often sudden and can be life-threatening, therefore it is usually diagnosed quite quickly. In type 2 diabetes, many people have no symptoms, while other signs can go unnoticed as they are seen as part of the ageing process. Therefore, by the time symptoms are noticed, complications of diabetes may already be present.
Common symptoms include:
- Being more thirsty than usual
- Passing more urine
- Feeling tired and lethargic
- Always feeling hungry
- Having cuts that heal slowly
- Itching or skin infections
- Blurred vision
- Mood swings
- Feeling dizzy
- Leg cramps
- Unexplained weight loss (type 1)
- Gradually putting on weight (type 2)
Daily self-care is important for managing diabetes. While there is currently no cure for diabetes, people with diabetes can live an enjoyable life by learning about the condition and effectively managing it. The type of management is dependent on the type of diabetes a person has and what their health team recommends. To manage type 1 diabetes for example, the disease is managed with insulin injections or an insulin pump, regular blood glucose monitoring, a healthy diet, and regular exercise.
Keeping blood glucose levels in a healthy range helps to prevent short-term and long-term complications.
- See the Diabetes Australia’s webpage for more information about managing the specific diabetes types.
- Factsheets and further resources for diabetes management can also be found here.
As the information above is general in nature, and symptoms may be like other conditions it is important to have a consultation with your doctor if you have any concerns. Please feel free to contact us to make an appointment.