World Diabetes Day is being held on 14 November, so to mark the day, our experts are on hand to offer advice on diabetes in our sixth Health Message.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic condition occurring when the amount of glucose – sugar – in the blood is too high because it can’t be used by the body’s cells.

There are different kinds of diabetes:

Type 1: this is when the body doesn’t produce the insulin needed for the glucose to enter the body’s cells. This is an autoimmune disorder, usually diagnosed in childhood or early adulthood, and is nothing to do with lifestyle such as diet and exercise.

Type 2: This form of diabetes occurs when the body produces insulin, but the insulin is ineffective in getting the glucose into the cells.  This is the most common form of diabetes, caused by a combination of genetics, lifestyle and weight status. More than half the cases can be delayed, prevented or – in some cases – even reversed by diet and exercise.

Pregnant women

Gestational diabetes; this can affect pregnant women, most commonly during the 2nd and 3rd trimester. Women are at increased risk if:

  • They have a BMI (body mass index) above 30
  • Previously gave birth to a large baby ( 4.5kg/10lb or more)
  • Previous history of gestational diabetes
  • Has a parent/sibling with diabetes
  • Have South-Asia, China, Afro-Caribbean or Middle Eastern origins

The symptoms of gestational diabetes can be similar to those common in pregnancy, (i.e.: increased thirst, increased urination, fatigue and dry mouth), but if you have any doubts, speak to your doctor or midwife.

Gestational diabetes can cause problems such as:

  • Baby growing larger than expected with the possible risk of difficulties in delivery
  • Premature labour
  • Pre-eclampsia
  • Baby developing low blood sugar or jaundice
  • Stillbirth (rarely)!!
  • Risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in the future

Blood sugar can be controlled by changes in the diet and exercise, as well as medication if health professionals consider it necessary.

What is insulin? A hormone, produced by the pancreas which, effectively, acts as the key by which glucose, from the blood, enters the body’s cells to produce energy.

What is carbohydrate?  A main source of energy from food, broken down, by the digestive system, into glucose. There are different forms of carbohydrate:

Starchy foods (i.e, bread, pasta, potatoes) and sugars, some of which are naturally occurring, for instance in fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose) and, some are added such as those, found in sweets, chocolate, prepared sauces etc.

Fibre is another form of carbohydrate which can’t be digested and is classified as insoluble (such as wholemeal bread and cereals) and soluble (such as bananas, oats and barley).  Fibre is your friend as it helps to keep blood glucose and cholesterol, under control.

What are the risk factors for developing diabetes?

Age, Ethnicity, Genes

For white people the risk increases from the age of 40, but for people of Afro-Caribbean, Black African or South-Asian descent, the age risk factor reduces to 25 and, people of this background are at greater risk overall.

Your risk also increases if someone in your immediate family (sibling, parent, child) has Type 2 diabetes.

Physiology

Your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes increases if you have high blood pressure, are overweight and, are large around your middle.

Being overweight is a controllable risk factor – you can’t change your age or your genes, so consider changing the things within your control, such as the foods you eat and your weight!

Exercise can help.  Aerobic exercise (eg. running, swimming, brisk walking, cycling and dancing) lowers the risk of Type 2 diabetes by controlling blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol

Signs and symptoms

  • Going to the toilet frequently
  • Insatiable thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Blurred vision
  • Cuts and wounds which are slow to heal
  • Genital itching/thrush

If you have any of these symptoms, contact your GP.  They may not be a sign of diabetes at all, and they may be early warning signals, so don’t ignore them.

What are the risks associated with diabetes?

We hear about diabetes so much it’s easy to become complacent; DON’T!

Diabetes is associated with: eye disease, nerve damage, kidney disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, ketoacidosis (a build-up of ketones which make the body more acidic) dental problems, and, certain types of cancer.

For more information about diabetes, visit www.diabetes.org.uk. You’ll find lots of tips for healthy eating, more information on the different forms of diabetes and, managing your life if you have been diagnosed with the condition. Remember – knowledge is power, so rather than burying your head in the sand, if you think you are at risk, seek help!

For specific information about gestational diabetes, consult your midwife or doctor and you may find this page helpful.

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