World Diabetes Day: Living with Diabetes
Diabetes was the leading cause of death in the Western Cape accounting for 3 114 (6,7%) deaths in 2012 (Statistics SA report Mortality and causes of death in South Africa, 2012: Findings from death notification).
The report also revealed that Diabetes was the:
- leading cause of death in the Metropole
- leading cause of death for both sexes in the age group 50-64
- leading cause of death for women all ages
- second leading cause of death for both sexes in the age group over 65
- fifth leading cause of death for both sexes in the age group 15-49
“You have diabetes.” Those were the words that changed my life forever. Thirteen-year-old Craig Jeffery was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in December 2008 at the age of seven. He was left with a mixture of emotions – confusion, sadness, devastation and disbelief - and it felt like his entire world had just come crashing down.
The first two weeks were extremely tough for Craig and his parents as they struggled to come to terms with his diagnoses and adapt to the changes that they needed to make to their daily routine. Young children may have difficulty understanding the sudden changes – glucose monitoring, insulin injections, food restrictions – when diagnosed with Diabetes.
Most of the changes that were needed related to eating habits and leading a more healthy lifestyle – Craig had to learn to monitor what he eats, avoid certain foods, eat more regularly, snack in between meals to keep his glucose levels stable, drink more water and exercise more regularly.
Many of the adjustments Craig had to make may seem like a big deal to most seven-year-olds, but Craig was brave beyond his years and quickly added those adjustments into his daily routine and seamlessly transitioned into life as a diabetic. “His easy transition made it so much easier for us as parents to eventually come to terms with his diagnoses and enabled us to move on as a family,” says his father, Ashley Jeffery.
Adolescence presents challenges of its own and teenagers with Diabetes can feel like they are carrying extra burdens, which may cause emotional and behavioural challenges, but Craig poured his energy into various sporting codes which has played an important role in helping him lead a normal life.
“It makes me feel normal and accepted because I compete with non-diabetic children and do not get treated differently as a result of my condition. The education that I received on Diabetes helped me realise my dream of playing cricket for Western Province,” says Craig. He then proudly states that he was recently chosen for the U13 Western Province Cricket team and that they will be traveling to Potchefstroom to participate in Cricket South Africa’s National U13 Cricket Week from 11 to 15 December 2014.
Craig adds that Diabetes doesn’t control him or his life, but that it has definitely helped shape him. “I didn’t allow Diabetes to hold me back. I realised that I could do anything that I put my mind to and I pursued my passion for cricket. I just take special care in managing my Diabetes on the days I participate in sports,” says Craig.
Early diagnosis is important to ensure that the right treatment is determined and the management thereof can begin, therefore it is important to know what the symptoms of Diabetes are and whether you are at risk. Having Diabetes does not necessarily mean the end of a normal life – the most important thing is to accept that you have Diabetes and learn how to manage it.
According to the International Diabetes Federation, approximately 20 million people in Africa have been diagnosed with diabetes compared to 382 million worldwide.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a condition in which your body is unable to use the glucose from the food you eat. Glucose comes from foods such as breads, cereals, pasta, rice, potatoes, fruits and some vegetables. To use glucose, your body needs insulin, which is made by a gland in your body called the pancreas. The disease affects one’s metabolism which can cause excessive urination and continuous thirst.
How serious is Diabetes?
There is no such thing as 'mild' Diabetes. Diabetes is always serious. If it is left untreated or is not well managed, the high levels of blood glucose associated with Diabetes can slowly damage both the fine nerves and the small and large blood vessels in the body, resulting in a variety of complications.
These include heart disease, blindness, amputation, kidney disease and erectile dysfunction or impotence. The good news is that with careful management, these complications can be delayed and even prevented, but early diagnosis is very important.
You need to know what the symptoms of Diabetes are and whether you are at risk.
Symptoms of Diabetes:
- Frequent urination
- Excessive thirst
- Increased hunger
- Unusual weight loss
- Lack of interest and concentration
- Blurred vision
- Frequent or recurring infections
- Cuts and bruises that are slow to heal, boils and itching skin
- Tingling and numbness in the hands or feet
- Vomiting and stomach pain (often mistaken as the flu)
These symptoms may not all present together, which is why it is important to go for regular blood glucose testing.
Types of Diabetes:
Type 1 Diabetes occurs when the pancreas stops producing insulin. It usually starts in young people under the age of 30 years, including very young children and infants, and the onset is sudden and dramatic. People who have Type 1 Diabetes must inject insulin to survive. Insulin dosages are carefully balanced with food intake and exercise programmes.
Type 2 Diabetes is caused when the insulin, which the pancreas produces, is either not enough or does not work properly. Approximately 85 - 90% of all people with Diabetes are Type 2, and many people who have this condition are undiagnosed.
Gestational Diabetes is a temporary condition that occurs during pregnancy. Both mother and child have an increased risk of developing Diabetes in the future.
How do you know if you have Diabetes?
Early diagnosis of diabetes is extremely important for complications to be prevented or delayed. If you are over 35 and have any of the risk factors, you should be tested every year. A simple finger-prick test at your local pharmacy or clinic can diagnose the strong likelihood that you may have diabetes within a minute.
How is Diabetes treated?
Having Diabetes need not mean the end of a normal, healthy life. People with Diabetes need to first accept the fact that they have the condition and then learn how to manage it. This takes commitment and perseverance.
The goal of Diabetes management is to bring blood glucose levels into the normal range, that is, between 4-6mmol/l. There are various aspects to good Diabetes management.
- Education - Knowing about Diabetes is an essential first step. All people with Diabetes need to learn about their condition in order to make healthy lifestyle choices and manage their Diabetes well.
- Healthy Eating - There is no such thing as a 'Diabetic diet', only a healthy way of eating, which is recommended for everyone. However, what, when and how much you eat plays an important role in regulating how well your body manages blood glucose levels. It's a good idea to visit a registered dietician who will help you work out a meal plan, which is suitable to your particular lifestyle and needs.
- Exercise - Regular exercise helps your body lower blood glucose, promotes weight loss, reduces stress and enhances overall fitness and enjoyment of life.
- Weight Management - Maintaining a healthy weight is especially important in the control of type 2 Diabetes. Make an appointment to see a registered dietician who will work out a meal plan to help you lose weight.
- Medication - People with type 1 Diabetes require daily injections of insulin to survive. Type 2 Diabetes is controlled through exercise and meal planning and may require Diabetes tablets and/or insulin to assist the body in making or using insulin more effectively.
- Lifestyle Management - Learning to reduce stress levels in daily living can help people manage their blood glucose levels. Smoking is particularly dangerous for people with Diabetes.
Communications Officer: Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital
Tel: 021 658 5448