What is diabetes?
Diabetes refers to a metabolic disease that causes high blood sugar. With diabetes, your system is not able to either manufacture or effectively utilize insulin, thereby impairing your system’s ability to properly store blood sugar.
There are two types of diabetes:
Type one diabetes
- Happens when your immune system attacks the cells in your pancreas, where the production of insulin takes place
- Treatment involves daily insulin jabs, as the body is unable to naturally manufacture insulin.
- Accounts for nearly 5% of all diagnosed cases.
Type two diabetes
- Occurs when your body becomes resistant to insulin, allowing sugar to constantly build up in your blood
- Type two diabetes can be managed through routine exercise and dietary changes.
- Accounts for about 95% of all diagnosed cases.
Note: Diabetes is a progressive chronic condition. Patients tend to require lifelong medication.
What is the diabetes rate in Singapore?
At least 1 out of 10 Singaporeans is living with diabetes. And for those aged 60 and above, the figures are even higher, with at least 33% of them suffering from this condition. It’s estimated that diabetes currently costs Singapore more than $1 billion annually to manage, and remains one of the major causes of hospitalizations, amputations as well as fatalities.
What causes diabetes?
To understand diabetes, it’s imperative to understand how your body naturally uses glucose.
When your body digests food, a type of sugar known as glucose enters your bloodstream, serving as your body’s fuel. Your pancreas then begins to produce insulin, which helps to transfer glucose from your bloodstream into the various muscles, liver as well as fat cells to be utilized as a source of energy.
However, for those with diabetes, their body is not able to effectively transport glucose to all the body’s cells. This is because the pancreas cannot manufacture enough insulin, and/or the body’s cells do not respond to insulin appropriately. Eventually, this results in excess sugar build up in the blood.
It is believed that type one diabetes is caused by:
- A virus that may trigger an immune system attack
As for type two diabetes:
- Lifestyle factors – you are more likely to suffer from type two diabetes if you are not physically active and are either obese or overweight
What are the symptoms of diabetes?
- Dry mouth
- Blurred vision
- Increased thirst
- Weak, tired feeling
- Frequent urination
- Unexplained weight loss
- Frequent unexplained infections
- Slow-healing cuts or sores
- Tingling or numbness in the feet or hands
Other nonspecific symptoms may include:
- In women: itchy and dry skin, frequent yeast infections, and urinary tract infections.
- In men: low sex drive, decreased muscle strength as well as erectile dysfunction symptoms such as the inability to achieve and attain erections.
The symptoms associated with type one diabetes can develop fairly fast, within a few weeks or months. These symptoms usually start when you are relatively young. Other potential symptoms may include nausea, urinary tract infections, vomiting, or stomach upsets.
On the other hand, the symptoms of type two diabetes usually start to appear when you are an adult.
If poorly managed or controlled in the long run, diabetes can lead to serious health complications, ranging from kidney failure, amputations, to heart disease and vision issues, among others.
How is diabetes diagnosed?
- Fasting blood sugar test: This particular test involves drawing blood from your body after an overnight fast. You must fast for at least eight hours.
- Random blood sugar test: This test is similar to the fasting blood sugar test, except that you do not need to fast overnight.
- Oral glucose tolerance (OGTT) test: With this particular test, you are required to fast overnight and then drink a sugary liquid at your health provider’s office. Blood sugar levels are examined before the sugary drink and two hours after taking the drink.
- Glycated hemoglobin (HbA1C): This is a blood test to monitor the sugar control for the past 3 months.
- Glucose prick test: This is a simple quick test to check the capillary blood sugar level, with a convenient finger prick test. The results can be out within 5 minutes.
Note: The fasting glucose test requires that you do not consume anything for at least 8 hours prior to the test.
How is diabetes treated in Singapore?
Even though there is no cure for diabetes, there are several treatment options that can help manage the condition and dramatically slow down its progression. These treatment options work differently to lower your blood sugar.
The most popular treatment mechanisms include boosting insulin sensitivity, stimulating the production of insulin as well as slowing the digestion of carbohydrates.
Your treatment plan will hinge on:
- The underlying root causes of your diabetes
- Lifestyle factors
- Your blood sugar level
- Existing medical problems you may have
Is it possible to prevent type two diabetes?
Even though you cannot control certain diabetes risk factors such as your family history, there are a few things you can do to manage your type two diabetes, including:
- Getting active physically: You don’t have to engage in routine, vigorous exercise! Research shows that nearly 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity on most days of the week is more than enough to minimize your risk of type two diabetes.
- Eat a healthy diet: Consuming foods higher in fiber and lower in calories and fat is also highly recommended. In this respect, focus on whole grains, fruits as well as vegetables.
- Shed excess weight: If you are currently struggling with weight issues, losing even 5% of your total body weight can significantly reduce your risk of diabetes.
- Take all your doctor’s diabetes prescription medications (insulin or pills).
- Take all your other drugs to treat any risk factors, such as hypertension, high cholesterol, cardiovascular problems as well as other health issues as directed by your doctor.
Exercise and diet are highly beneficial in the management of type two diabetes. Moderate aerobic exercise coupled with a healthy diet filled with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can all help minimize your risk of developing the condition.
As already explained, diabetes is a genetic disorder – so this means that if you are diabetic, there is a chance that children might also develop the condition! This risk is greatest when many family members have diabetes, if your kids are overweight, or have other risk factors for type two diabetes.
If you are pre-diabetic, your blood sugar level is higher than normal, but not high enough for a diabetes diagnosis. It also means that you are at a higher risk of developing type two diabetes as well as other serious conditions such as heart disease and stroke.
Without the necessary lifestyle changes to improve their overall health, prediabetes people are likely to develop type two diabetes within 5 years. Early screening and lifestyle changes are paramount in preventing and slowing down progression of type two diabetes.