Health Q&A

World Diabetes Day: Know the Signs and Symptoms

October 31, 2017

World Diabetes Day occurs on 14 November. Here, we explain the condition’s symptoms to empower everyone to understand the signs of diabetes, regardless of gender. Diabetes can affect anyone so everyone needs equal access to information – and this is where we can help.

The condition is manageable and treatable but can be fatal if symptoms are ignored or not recognised. Diabetes currently accounts for 5.4 percent of deaths in South Africa and is the second most common natural cause of death in the country, according to a study by a Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researcher. With rates of diabetes rising, early diagnosis is key to preventing deaths.

What are the signs and symptoms of diabetes?

• Blurred vision – This can be one of the first warning signs of diabetes.
• Frequent need to urinate – Going to the toilet a lot, especially at night, can be a sign.
• Excessive thirst – Feeling thirsty even after drinking a lot can indicate diabetes.
• Feeling more tired than usual – Like other symptoms, this may be caused by something else but unexplained fatigue should always be evaluated by a medical professional.
• Unexplained weight loss – If you are losing weight without trying to, you should visit a doctor.
• Genital itching or thrush – This symptom is due to high sugar levels, which allows yeast to grow and cause problems.
• Cuts and wounds taking longer to heal – If wounds take more than a few weeks to heal, you need medical treatment in case it is infected or a sign of an underlying condition, such as diabetes.

What should I do if I have symptoms of diabetes?

If you have any of these symptoms, visit your doctor.
Diabetes may not be the cause but any of these symptoms need investigating and if they are signs of diabetes, early diagnosis will help your overall health. Once diabetes is treated and under control, you’ll greatly reduce your risk of developing complications.

What is the risk of leaving these symptoms unchecked?

Unfortunately, untreated diabetes can affect many of your major organs including your heart, eyes, kidneys, blood vessels and nerves, or lead to diabetic ketoacidosis (which can then itself lead to a potentially fatal coma).

What’s the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

Both types of diabetes are characterised by having higher than normal blood sugar levels. However, the root cause and the development of these conditions vary.

Type 1 diabetes:
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. The immune system incorrectly attacks insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, which makes the pancreas incapable of producing insulin.

Type 1 diabetes is:
• Often diagnosed in childhood
• Not associated with being overweight or obese
• Often associated with a higher than normal ketone level at time of diagnosis
• Treated with insulin injections or insulin pumps – it cannot be controlled without taking insulin

Type 2 diabetes:
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body loses its ability to respond to insulin. This is known as insulin resistance. Because of this, the body tries to produce more insulin. Over time, a lot of strain is placed on beta cells, which can destroy them and then lower insulin production.

Type 2 diabetes is:
• Usually diagnosed in adults (typically over 30 years old)
• Often associated with being overweight or obese
• Often associated with high blood pressure and/or higher than normal cholesterol levels at the time of diagnosis
• Can be treated with tablets but does not always need medication if managed by weight control, staying physically active and a meal plan

Not everyone with type 1 or type 2 diabetes fits the pattern of those who are most likely to be diagnosed. So, if you have any of the symptoms of diabetes, you should see a medical professional – even if you don’t have the factors that often distinguish type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Although type 1 diabetes is an unavoidable autoimmune disease, many cases of type 2 diabetes can be prevented. For advice on how to make to make lifestyle changes to improve your health and lower your risk of developing diabetes, get in touch with Topmed.

Topmed’s Wellness Benefit provides cover for certain preventative screening tests, including a blood sugar test which is payable from Topmed’s Major Medical Benefit. Click here to find out more about your Wellness Benefit.

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