Diabetes is a serious disease that affects 8.5% of people worldwide. It has devastating consequences- both physically and psychologically. This is a tragedy. With better engagement between carers and patients, the battle against diabetes can be won! The purpose of this article is to explore the basics of this illness and facilitate a better understanding of diabetes.
We all eat food – and love it!! Our bodies have to convert food to basic compounds such as glucose and then absorb it into the blood. Cells need to get the glucose for us to have energy. To do this, a hormone called insulin opens the ‘gate’ in the cell for glucose to enter. We then have energy.
What is diabetes?
In diabetes the food is broken down into glucose, and is absorbed into the blood. The problem is that it just cannot get into the cells. This can be because
• Your body does not make enough insulin
• Your cells are not responding to the insulin
This means that even though you are eating, your body’s cells are starving! And the glucose (sugar) in your blood is skyrocketing.
There are many types of diabetes. Three of the more common ones are:
• Type 1: The person makes no insulin. This is a problem- it means that you will need to be given insulin
• Gestational: This happens during pregnancy
• Type 2: This type of diabetes has a relative deficiency on insulin. They do make insulin, but it is just not enough for their body or their body cannot use the insulin properly. This is called resistance. This often happens when people start picking up weight. The rest of this article is going to focus on type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes is a problem. The cause of the problems is the high glucose in the blood. We are going to look at the problems in three categories.
Right now, if there’s too much sugar in your blood you can experience these symptoms
1. Frequent thirst
2. Needing to urinate a lot
3. Weight loss (you’re starving)
4. The excess sugar impedes your immune system so you are more likely to get infections and when they do happen you take long to get better
The high sugar levels in the blood lead to:
1. Eye problems up to blindness
2. Nerve problems. This usually starts in the feet, as the nerves to the feet are the longest. It can cause numbness, tingling or pain. If you have numb feet and you get hurt, you may not feel it.
3. Kidney problems
4. The sugar also damages blood vessels and you can get heart attacks and strokes
What’s normal? Normally, insulin signals the body that it is well fed. If there’s no insulin the body thinks it’s starving. So, it starts mobilizing energy from body stores. Your liver makes glucose and your fat breaks down to fatty acids. Your body tries to use the fatty acids for energy in your muscles so that it can keep the little glucose it has for your brain.
In type 2 diabetes there is enough insulin to stop the body from breaking down fat, but not enough to stop you making glucose. Over time (days- weeks) your blood sugar slowly gets higher. The sugar needs water and pulls the water from cells. This leads to dehydration and eventually a coma.
So what can we do? In every consultation there are two experts in the room: the doctor knows medicine and the patient knows their body. Working together, you can accomplish anything.
With diabetes, as with all diseases, we divide “treatment” into two groups:
Try and exercise for at least 30 min 5 times a week
If you are ‘heavy’ try and lose some weight. The golden number to remember is 88. Try and get your waist to under 88 cm
Try to cut down and stop smoking
Eat healthy (not an easy feat)
When we think about medication, there are many options available. This article is going to focus on three main options
1. Glucophage: this helps your body to use insulin better and it lowers the amount of glucose your body makes.
2. Glibencamide (this belongs to a commonly used family of medicine called sulfonylureas and there are many variations present): these increase the amount of insulin your body makes
3. Insulin: this is an injection and mimics the function of normal insulin in the body.
If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, please wear a notification bracelet.
Dear sister, you can control diabetes. Your body is so precious. Get some help, and let’s take care of you.
Hafiza Husna Moola is a medical student at UCT. Her passion is the marriage of religion and health. She firmly believes that understanding is power. Her column aims to provide insight into common medical conditions and create empowered individuals. When not studying, Husna enjoys baking, haunting bookstores and the great outdoors.