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Understanding Diabetes on World Diabetes Day

By Dr. Shreya Sharma in Paediatric (Ped) Endocrinology , Endocrinology & Diabetes

Nov 14 , 2023 | 5 min read

Every year on November 14th, the world unites to observe World Diabetes Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness about diabetes and promoting better management and prevention of this chronic condition. This global initiative was established by the World Health Organization and the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) to highlight the significance of diabetes, its causes, symptoms, complications, and how to manage it effectively. In this blog, we'll explore diabetes, its symptoms and causes, common complications, how to take care if you're living with diabetes and debunk 10 myths about the condition.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes, often called diabetes mellitus, is a chronic metabolic condition that is characterised by elevated blood glucose levels (hyperglycemia). Insulin, produced by the pancreas, is crucial in regulating blood sugar levels. There are three primary types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune condition characterised by the immune system mistakenly attacking and destroying insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. People with type 1 diabetes need insulin injections daily for survival.
  • Type 2 Diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, often linked to lifestyle and genetics. In type 2 diabetes, the body doesn't use insulin effectively, resulting in insulin resistance and relative insulin deficiency.
  • Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy - the body is unable to produce enough insulin to meet increased demands. It usually resolves after childbirth but may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes later in life.

Read more - A Comprehensive Guide to Healthy Eating for Diabetes Type-2 management

Symptoms and Causes of Diabetes

Common symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Excessive thirst and hunger
  • Frequent urination
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Blurred vision
  • Slow wound healing

The causes of diabetes can be multifaceted:

  • Genetic predisposition: Family history can affect type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
  • Unhealthy lifestyle: Poor dietary choices, lack of physical activity, and obesity are significant contributors to type 2 diabetes.
  • Autoimmune factors: In the case of type 1 diabetes, the immune system targets and eliminates cells in the pancreas responsible for producing insulin.
  • Gestational factors: Hormonal changes during pregnancy can lead to gestational diabetes.

Common Complications of Diabetes

Diabetes leads to several complications if not well managed:

  • Cardiovascular issues: Elevated blood sugar levels can impact the cardiovascular system. Over time, uncontrolled diabetes can lead to atherosclerosis (arteries narrow and harden because of the accumulation of fatty deposits). This narrowing restricts blood flow and can increase the risk of:
    • Heart disease: The presence of atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries can result in diminished blood flow to the heart, increasing the chances of experiencing heart attacks and angina (chest pain).
    • Stroke: The narrowing of blood vessels in the brain can result in decreased blood flow, potentially causing strokes. Additionally, diabetes also increases the risk of blood clots.
    • High blood pressure: High blood sugar levels affect blood vessel function, contribute to high blood pressure (hypertension), and further strain the cardiovascular system.
  • Neuropathy: Diabetes can lead to nerve damage, a condition known as neuropathy. Neuropathy can manifest in various ways, including:
    • Pain: Patients may experience persistent, often burning, sharp pain, particularly in their extremities (hands and feet).
    • Numbness and tingling: Nerve damage can result in reduced sensation, leading to numbness and tingling in the affected areas.
    • Muscle weakness: In severe cases, muscle weakness and loss of coordination can occur, impacting mobility and balance.
  • Nephropathy: Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to kidney damage, a condition known as nephropathy. Over time, the kidneys lose their ability to filter waste from the blood, resulting in:
    • Kidney failure: The most severe consequence of nephropathy is kidney failure. Kidney failure is characterised by the kidneys' inability to perform their essential function of filtering and regulating waste in the blood. This may necessitate dialysis or kidney transplantation.
  • Retinopathy: The damage to the blood vessels in the eyes, known as retinopathy, is a common diabetic complication. Elevated blood sugar levels can affect the tiny blood vessels in the retina, leading to:
    • Vision problems: Diabetic retinopathy can cause blurred vision, difficulty focusing, and fluctuations in vision.
    • Blindness: In advanced stages, retinopathy can lead to severe vision impairment and even blindness if not promptly managed and treated.
  • Foot Complications: Diabetes can result in various complications related to the feet, particularly when poor circulation and nerve damage are present:
    • Foot ulcers: Reduced blood flow can lead to poor wound healing. Minor cuts or blisters on the feet may become ulcers, which can be difficult to heal and prone to infection.
    • Infections: Foot ulcers can become infected, and the combination of poor circulation and neuropathy may make it challenging to detect these infections. In severe cases, an amputation may be necessary to prevent the spread of infection.

Read more - Diabetes and Heart Health

Managing Diabetes

Living with diabetes requires thoughtful management to maintain blood sugar levels within a healthy range. This includes:

  • Medication: For type 1, insulin injections or an insulin pump are necessary. Type 2 diabetes is managed with oral medications, insulin, or other injectable medications.
  • Healthy diet: A balanced diet with controlled carbohydrate intake is crucial.
  • Regular exercise: Physical activity helps improve insulin sensitivity and weight management.
  • Blood sugar monitoring: Regular monitoring is essential to make necessary adjustments.
  • Education: Understanding diabetes and its management is key for those affected and their caregivers.

Read more - Healthy Tips to Prevent Diabetes

Myths and Facts about Diabetes

Debunking 10 common myths about diabetes:

  • Myth 1: Eating too much sugar causes diabetes.
    Fact: While excessive sugar consumption is unhealthy, it's not the sole cause of diabetes. Type 1 is an autoimmune condition, and type 2 is influenced by multiple factors.
  • Myth 2: People with diabetes can't eat sweets.
    People with diabetes can enjoy sweets in moderation, but they need to monitor their carbohydrate intake and balance it with insulin or medication.
  • Myth 3: Diabetes is contagious.
    Fact: Diabetes is not contagious; it cannot be passed from person to person.
  • Myth 4: Only older adults get diabetes.
    Fact: While the risk increases with age, diabetes can affect people of all ages, including children.
  • Myth 5: Individuals with diabetes should only eat "diabetic" foods.
    Fact: These foods are often expensive and unnecessary. A balanced diet is more important.
  • Myth 6: People with diabetes can't participate in sports or physical activities.
    Fact: Regular exercise is beneficial for diabetes management. People with diabetes can and should be physically active.
  • Myth 7: Insulin is a last resort for type 2 diabetes.
    Fact: Insulin may be prescribed at any stage of type 2 diabetes to help manage blood sugar effectively.
  • Myth 8: Only overweight people get diabetes.
    Fact: While obesity is a risk factor, thin people can also develop type 2 diabetes.
  • Myth 9: You can "outgrow" diabetes.
    Fact: There is no cure for diabetes, but it can be managed effectively with the right treatment and lifestyle changes.
  • Myth 10: Diabetes is not a severe condition.
    Fact: Diabetes can lead to severe complications and significantly impact a person's quality of life if not managed properly.

Read more - 10 Myths and Facts About Diabetes

World Diabetes Day is a reminder to promote awareness and understanding of this prevalent chronic condition. By debunking myths, raising awareness of the causes, symptoms, and complications, and advocating for healthy living and proper management, we can improve the lives of those affected by diabetes and work towards a future with fewer cases and better care for all.