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7 things you didn't know about: diabetes

In light of National Diabetes Month, we found out more about the deadly disease.
In light of National Diabetes Month, we found out more about the deadly disease.
Image: 123RF/ratmaner

Diabetes is a word we’ve been hearing a lot lately. As Covid-19 started gaining traction in headlines worldwide, we learned that diabetes is one of the potentially fatal comorbidities we should be aware of.

In a very unfortunate turn to November, which is National Diabetes Month, fans of the kwaito star Mshoza were saddened to hear of her passing from complications due to the disease.

To find out more about the disease, we spoke to Bridget McNulty, the co-founder of Sweet Life, an online diabetes community that informs, inspires and connects people with diabetes in South Africa.

Here are seven things you might not have known about diabetes.

1. Living with diabetes is completely manageable

It is perfectly possible to live a happy, healthy life with diabetes, as long as you look after yourself. Looking after yourself means taking your medication, eating the right kind of food, exercising a little every day, and losing weight if you need to.

2. Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition that doesn’t have a cure

Type 1 diabetes affects about 10% of people with diabetes. It is an auto-immune condition and is often diagnosed in children, although adults can also get it.

It's a chronic condition, without a cure, and there's usually a dramatic diagnosis (you get very sick, very fast). With Type 1 diabetes, you need to take insulin injections right away, and every day.

3. Type 2 diabetes is a lifestyle disease that you can control

Type 2 diabetes is the far more common form, affecting 90% of people with diabetes. It is hereditary (it runs in families) and is often called a lifestyle disease, because it can be caused by the wrong diet, not exercising enough, and being overweight.

4. If you are diagnosed early enough, Type 2 diabetes is reversible

If you’ve picked up on the risk factors of Type 2 diabetes or if you’ve had a diabetes screening and you are told your blood sugar is higher than normal, that’s the right time to start making changes.

The most important first step is to work with your doctor so that they can advise you what your blood sugar results mean. After that, there are three lifestyle changes you need to make, including losing weight if necessary, changing your diet and becoming active.

5. Half of affected South Africans are not diagnosed 

There are an estimated 4.5 million people with diabetes in SA and at least two million are undiagnosed. That means that one in two people with diabetes doesn't know they have it – which means that they're definitely not controlling their blood sugar, which puts them at greater risk of long-term diabetes complications (blindness, amputation, kidney failure, heart disease).

Stats SA announced in 2016 that diabetes is the number one killer of women in South Africa – but it's not a lethal condition! It's a perfectly manageable condition if you're diagnosed early enough.

 6. There are 5 common symptoms 

  1. Extreme thirst
  2. Extreme hunger
  3. Needing to pee a lot, especially at night
  4. Exhaustion
  5. Blurry vision

7. Getting a diabetes test is quick, easy and relatively painless

Getting a diabetes screening takes less than five minutes and it doesn't hurt (it's a simple finger prick test). There are free screenings offered in November at Clicks Clinics and many independent pharmacies and you'll know your results right away. Just like we all know our HIV status, we should all know our diabetes status.

You can watch a 1-minute video that counts up your diabetes risk here.