Diabetes is a chronic (long-term) disease that can affect the entire body. You probably know somebody with diabetes as it is becoming one of the fastest growing disease states in not only Australia, but around the world. Nearly 1 in 4 Australians either have diabetes or are pre-diabetic (yet to be diagnosed) and is the 6th leading cause of death in Australia.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is where the body is either unable to produce or not produce enough of a hormone called insulin. Insulin is made by a special organ in the body called the pancreas. The body uses insulin to convert glucose (sugars from our food) into energy for our body. When we don’t have enough insulin, the glucose that hasn’t been changed into energy stays in the blood. As a result, people with diabetes have higher blood glucose levels. If the blood glucose levels stay high for a long period of time, this can then have bad effects on other parts of the body..

When we don’t have enough insulin, the glucose that hasn’t been changed into energy stays in the blood. As a result, people with diabetes have higher blood glucose levels.

If the blood glucose levels stay high for a long period of time, this can then have bad effects on other parts of the body..

There are two most common forms of diabetes that people can suffer from are:

Type 1 diabetes: this is where the pancreas stops producing insulin and if the body cannot convert glucose into energy, it will try and break down fat for its energy source.

People with Type 1 diabetes will need life-long injections with insulin as the body cannot produce it naturally.

Type1 diabetes usually occurs in people under 30 years of age.

Type 2 diabetes: this is where the pancreas can make insulin, but not enough insulin for the body. This is the most common form of diabetes with 85-90% suffering from this form, where older Australians are usually affected. But it is now being diagnosed in younger adults and even children.

Even if there is a strong family history of diabetes in the family, the risk is even higher if the person has one or more of the following factors:

  • Is overweight
  • Has high blood pressure
  • Does not regularly exercise
  • Has a bad diet
  • Is obese
  • Carries most of their weight around their waist line (apple shaped body)

Type 2 diabetes may initially be treated by controlling diet and enough exercise, but over time, it may not be enough. People may need to take oral medicines to lower high blood glucose levels and possibly require insulin injections to manage the condition.

What are the consequences of not managing diabetes properly?

If blood glucose levels remain extremely high, they can do damage to vital organs in the body.

With the condition not managed properly- diabetics lose around 12-14 years off their lifespan.

Cardiovascular disease: 2/3 of diabetics are likely to develop cardiovascular disease (for example: heart attack and stroke).

Eyes: 1 in 6 people will develop retinopathy which can result in blindness.

Kidneys: Diabetics are 3 times more likely to develop impaired kidney function than normal people.

Nerve and blood vessel damage can occur in diabetes which can lead to leg ulcers, foot problems and even amputations.

How do you know if your diabetes is being managed properly?

The quickest way is to test blood glucose levels using machines called blood glucose monitors. Just measuring blood glucose levels is not enough to help manage diabetes though. It is from these results, that diabetics must make actively make changes to their lifestyle and behaviours to improve control of their disease.

Before main meals or fasting: Aim to have a reading between 6-8 mmol/L (according to NHMRC). Ideally 4-6mmol/L (according to Diabetes Australia).

2 hours after main meals: Aim to have a reading between 6-10 mmol/L.

Readings that are any higher than 10 mmol/L are not ideal and it is suggested that changes need to be made immediately to lifestyle and behaviours.

Always have clean dry hands before performing a test.

Always use a new lancet (needle that pricks the finger to draw blood) otherwise the lancet will eventually become blunt and will hurt when the finger is tested.

Always tests on the sides of the fingertips. Never the tips or the pads of the fingertips as these areas are very sensitive.

Always record the results in a Diabetes Record Book for you to take to your Doctor.

Make sure your testing strips have not expired.

Ask your pharmacist for advice and to check if your testing technique is correct.

What can we do to stop developing diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented but we can reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Maintaining a healthy weight: Ask your Pharmacist to find out what your healthy weight should be and programs that are available.

  • Regular physical activity : aim for at least 30 minutes off exercise every day and it can be split into smaller time frames in the day
  • Making healthy food choices : Do not avoid all foods with carbohydrates, make the right choices! Reduce your intake of highly processed foods and foods high in starch. Choose foods that are low GI (foods that release sugar slowly into the bloodstream, resulting in a more steady and controlled blood glucose reading)
  • Managing blood pressure : Aim for a BP reading less than 130/80. Try to reduce salt intake in your diet, for example, do not have salt shakers on the table at mealtimes.
  • Managing cholesterol levels : Aim for a total cholesterol reading less than 4 mmol/L. Reduce consumption of saturated fats (mainly from animal sources like meat and full-fat dairy products). Ask your Pharmacist for a Cardiovascular check and advice on products that may help lower cholesterol levels.
  • Not smoking: there are many treatments to stop smoking that are available in pharmacy- ask your Pharmacist.

See your pharmacist for advice on how you can best manage your diabetes condition, for products that may help or reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

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