Diabetes is the fastest growing chronic condition in Australia, increasing at a faster rate than other chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer. It costs the Australian economy around $14.6 billion each year and worldwide, it is estimated that one in every 11 adults has diabetes in one form or another (Source: Diabetes Australia)
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a serious and complex condition that can affect anyone at any age.
For our bodies to work properly, we need to convert glucose (sugar) from food into energy. This is done by an important hormone in the pancreas, called insulin.
In people with diabetes, insulin is either no longer produced or not produced in sufficient amounts by the body so that when glucose is consumed (through foods such as breads, cereals, fruit and starchy vegetables, legumes, milk, yoghurts and sweets) it can’t be converted into energy.
Instead of being turned into energy, the glucose stays in the blood resulting in high blood glucose levels. Diabetes is a complex condition that can affect different parts of the body and brings with it a range of complications.
- People with diabetes are up to four times more likely to suffer heart attacks and strokes?
- Diabetes is the leading cause of preventable blindness in Australia?
- Kidney failure is three times more common in people with diabetes?
- Amputations are 15 times more common in people with diabetes?
- More than 30 per cent of people with diabetes experience depression, anxiety and distress?
- There are three types of diabetes – Type 1, Type 2 and Gestational.
Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune condition in which the immune system is activated to destroy the cells in the pancreas which produce insulin. It is one of the most common chronic childhood conditions and represents ~10% of all diabetes cases.
There are four main early warning signs of Type 1 diabetes:
These may be accompanied by other symptoms, including:
- Constant hunger
- Cuts that heal slowly
- Itching and skin infections
- Blurred vision
- Mood swings
- Feeling dizzy
- Leg cramps
Type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition in which the body becomes resistant to the normal effects of insulin and/or gradually loses the capacity to produce enough insulin in the pancreas.
It represents 85-90% of all diabetes cases and usually develops in adults over the age of 45 years, but there is a growing trend in the development of Type 2 diabetes in younger age groups, largely due to lifestyle factors.
Hereditary factors also play a part and people with a family history of Type 2 diabetes are more likely to develop the disease. Those from particular ethnic groups, including those from an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Pacific Islander, Indian Subcontinent or Chinese background, are also more susceptible.
Often people with Type 2 Diabetes may not be aware they have the disease, and early symptoms may be associated with getting older or result from disease-related complications such as a heart attack, vision problems or foot ulcers. The common signs and symptoms to look out for are the same as those for Type 1 diabetes.
Diabetes WA provides a usual tool to help assess your risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes. You can take the risk assessment here – Diabetes: What’s Your Risk?
There is no cure for Type 2 diabetes, however, the disease may be managed through lifestyle changes, including eating well, regular exercise and ongoing monitoring of blood glucose levels.In addition, diabetes medication and insulin injections may be required to help control the condition.
Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy and affects around 12-14% of pregnant women in Australia. The disease usually goes away once the baby is born.
Many women with gestational diabetes show no symptoms of the disease and it is often only diagnosed after the Glucose Tolerance Test (GTT) performed during the 24thto 28thweek of pregnancy.
Those at greater risk of developing Gestational diabetes include women:
- Aged 40 years or over.
- With a family history of Type 2 Diabetes or whose mother or sister had gestational diabetes.
- Who are overweight.
- Who have had elevated blood glucose levels in the past or who have experience gestational diabetes in previous pregnancies.
- From certain ethnic groups, including those from an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Melanesian, Polynesian, Chinese, Southeast Asian, Middle Easter or Indian background.
- Who have experienced Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.
- Who have previously give birth to a large baby (i.e. weighing more than 4.5kg).
- Taking some types of anti-psychotic or steroid medications.
- Who have gained weight too rapidly in the first half of pregnancy.
Women who experience Gestational diabetes have an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes as they get older.
Gestational diabetes is usually managed through healthy eating and regular exercise, however, medication and insulin injections may be required in some cases.
The early diagnosis, optimal treatment and effective ongoing support and management of diabetes are key to reducing the risk of any related complications and it is important to stay in regular contact with your GP to help you manage the disease.
- Diabetes Australia – https://www.diabetesaustralia.com.au
- Diabetes WA – https://diabeteswa.com.au
- Healthy WA – http://healthywa.wa.gov.au/Health-conditions/Diabetes
- Department of Health, WA – http://www.diabetes.health.wa.gov.au/home/