What do you think of when you hear the word, ‘diabetes’? Do images of finger prick tests and insulin injections spring to mind?
Diabetes is the fastest growing chronic condition in Australia. But how much do we really know about the condition that affects millions of Australians and causes more than five million deaths globally each year?
Diabetes (both type 1 and type 2) affects the body’s ability to convert sugar from food (glucose) into energy. The sugar stays in the bloodstream, which can cause a range of serious health complications, such as heart attack, stroke, kidney disease and blindness.
Diabetes educators support diabetics in their daily monitoring and management of their blood sugar levels through dietary changes and accurate administration of insulin. This helps them avoid the hypo (low) and hyper (high) blood sugar levels that can be very dangerous for their health.
The other really significant concern for people with diabetes is the risk of amputation as a result of foot ulcers.
Around 4400 diabetes-related amputations are performed in Australian hospitals each year. That’s about 12 people every day who lose a toe, foot or limb. Apart from the huge personal cost, these amputations cost the health system almost one billion dollars.
Doctors and diabetes educators estimate around 85% of diabetes-related amputations are preventable.
The President of the Australian Diabetes Society, Professor Sophia Zoungas, says that “almost all diabetes amputations are preceded by sores or ulcers on the foot.”
The professor recommends people with diabetes have their feet checked twice a year by a health professional. “If sores are detected and treated early, then they don’t escalate to a situation where amputation is required,” she says.
It’s clear that diabetes is an illness that should not be under-estimated. While type 1 diabetes has a strong genetic link, the more prevalent type 2 diabetes is associated with modifiable lifestyle risk factors.
Although it also carries a genetic link, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes is much higher for people who:
- have high blood pressure
- are overweight or obese
- are not physically active
- eat an unhealthy diet.
With no cure for diabetes, it’s important to understand the risk factors. And it’s critical for people with diabetes to manage all the associated complications.