We heard a lot about diabetes on World Diabetes Day on 14 November, but how much do you actually know about the disease that affects around 3.5 million South Africans – and more critically, are you at risk? There are another estimated five million South Africans with pre-diabetes – that is, the propensity to develop type 2 diabetes at some point in their lives. It’s possible that you’re one of them.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about diabetes so you can arm yourself with information and stay healthy.
Diabetes Q&A: critical facts every South African should know
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a serious disease that occurs when your blood sugar (known as blood glucose) is elevated beyond normal levels. In people who have diabetes, insulin – the hormone that converts glucose into energy – is either not being produced, or produced in insufficient quantities. The body is unable to maintain healthy blood sugar levels on its own, and therefore requires a combination of medication, correct eating and exercise to manage glucose levels and avoid complications. There are three types of diabetes.
What are the three types of diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes: Affects about 10% of those with diabetes and occurs when the body loses the ability to produce insulin, or can only produce a tiny amount. It’s an autoimmune disease, as the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks parts of its own pancreas that produce insulin. Scientists don’t know why this happens, but daily, life-long treatment is required. It usually occurs in childhood or adolescence, but can occur in adulthood too.
Type 2 diabetes: Affects around 80 to 90% of those with diabetes, and is the overwhelmingly more common variety. It mostly affects middle-aged to older adults and is caused by a combination of insulin resistance and the body’s inability to make enough insulin to overcome this resistance. Usually, it sets in as a result of genetic and lifestyle factors, such as eating a diet high in sugar and carbohydrates, being overweight, not exercising and generally leading an unhealthy, stress-filled lifestyle.
Gestational diabetes: Diagnosed during pregnancy and usually disappears after giving birth, but it can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes later in life.
What are the symptoms of diabetes?
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Blurred vision
- OR no symptoms at all
Who is at greatest risk of diabetes?
In South Africa, the highest prevalence of diabetes is among the Indian population (11 to 13%), as this group is genetically predisposed to the illness. The coloured community is next at 8 to 10%, followed by 5 to 8% prevalence among black people and 4% in white people.
What happens if I don’t get proper treatment for my diabetes?
Diabetes is a very serious illness, and it requires daily care to be managed. The illness can affect the whole body and, if not treated properly and strictly every single day, complications may include blindness, kidney failure, heart disease, nerve damage, eventual limb amputation and other complications.
Where and how can I get tested for diabetes?
A quick, simple and painless finger prick test will reveal if you have diabetes. These tests are offered by clinics and pharmacies, or you can ask your doctor, gynae or clinic next time you have a women’s wellness appointment.