To acknowledge World Diabetes Day (14 November), we learn why in today’s age it’s imperative to know your diabetes status and act early to live a healthy life.
Education on diabetes is vital, because even in 2022, many people who have the disease don’t realise it. Diabetes is one of the largest global health emergencies of the 21st century and among the top 10 causes of death worldwide.1
South Africa has one of the highest rates of diabetes in Sub-Saharan Africa.1 The International Diabetes Federation estimates that there are approximately 4,6 million South African adults with diabetes, about half of whom are not yet diagnosed.1 In South Africa, diabetes is the second leading cause of death, with 90 000 South Africans dying from diabetes-related causes in 2019.1
It’s therefore extremely important for every South African to be aware of their diabetes status, as prompt, proactive intervention, along with early treatment intensification and a healthy lifestyle, can have a significant impact on Type 2 diabetes, and its associated complications.
What is diabetes?
According to Dr Zaheer Bayat, physician, endocrinologist and chair of The Society for Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes of South Africa (SEMDSA) as well as Head of Internal Medicine at Helen Joseph Hospital, “Diabetes mellitus (diabetes) is a metabolic disorder with diverse causes, which is characterised by chronic elevated blood glucose levels. Glucose is an important source of energy for our muscles and tissues and is the brain’s main source of fuel.2 No matter what type of diabetes you have, it can lead to excess sugar in the blood and too much sugar in the blood can lead to serious health problems.”2
The most common type of diabetes is Type 2 diabetes, which occurs in more than 90% of people with diabetes.3 It can develop at any age, but is more common in people older than 40.2
Urbanisation and an unhealthy lifestyle play a major role in the development Type 2 diabetes.3 Excess bodyweight is estimated to account for 87% of cases of Type 2 diabetes in South Africa.4
What are the signs and symptoms?
Of the people who have Type 2 diabetes, 30-85% do not know that they have it.3By the time they are eventually diagnosed by a doctor, approximately 20% will already have complications of the disease.3
The general symptoms of Type 2 diabetes that people need to be aware of, which are caused by rising blood glucose levels include: 2
- Increased thirst
- Weight loss
- Frequent urination
- Increased urination at night
- Blurry vision
- Extreme fatigue
- Sores that don’t heal
Act fast: The time is now
If you have Type 2 diabetes, self-care is essential in treating the disease.5 The most effective way to prevent or reduce illness or death from diabetes is through meticulous control of blood glucose, blood pressure and fat levels in the blood, and regular medical examinations to ensure that quick action can be taken to detect and deal with any complications as they arise.1 These complications include heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure and lower limb amputation.1
Treatment and lifestyle
If you have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes you can still enjoy an active and healthy life without serious complications. This will require proper self-care and management and listening to the advice of your doctor, dietitian and diabetes educator about diet, exercise, blood glucose monitoring and, when necessary, use of the right medications.
Prevention is better than cure
According to Dr Bayat, there are three key tips that can have a big impact on lowering your risk for Type 2 diabetes:
- Eat healthy foods.Choose foods lower in fat and calories and higher in fibre. Focus on fruits (in moderation), vegetables and whole grains.2
- Get more physical activity.Try to get about 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity on most days, or at least 150 minutes a week. For example, take a brisk daily walk. If you can’t fit in a long workout, break it up into smaller sessions throughout the day.2
- Lose excess kilos.If you’re overweight, losing even 7% of your body weight can lower the risk of diabetes. For a person weighing around 90kg even a 6 to 7kg weight loss can significantly lower your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes 2
If you are experiencing any symptoms of Type 2 diabetes, consult your doctor for further tests.
This article is sponsored by Novartis in the interest of education, awareness and support.
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- Kok A, Hariram A, Webb D & Amod A. Patterns of diabetes management in South Africa: baseline and 24-month data from the South African cohort of the DISCOVER study. Journal of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes of South Africa 2021;26(2):60-65.
- Mayo Clinic. Diabetes overview.d. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/symptoms-causes/syc-20371444#:~:text=Glucose%20is%20an%20important%20source,excess%20sugar%20in%20the%20blood.Accessed 26 October 2022.
- Department of Health. 2014. Management of type 2 diabetes in adults at primary care level.
- Pheiffer C, Pillay-Van Wyk V, Turawa E, et al. Prevalence of Type 2 Diabetes in South Africa: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 2021;18:5868.
- Taloyan M, Kia M, Lamian F, et al. Web-based support for individuals with type 2 diabetes – a feasibility study. BMC Health Services Research 2021;21:721.