What is diabetes?
For our bodies to function normally, we all need a constant supply of glucose in our blood - this is what gives us energy and makes our body work (a bit like putting fuel in a car). The fuel we need comes from the foods we eat, some of which then change into glucose, or sugar and are released into the blood stream.
People with diabetes have too much glucose in their blood. This is because their pancreas, which makes the hormone called insulin, is either not able to make enough insulin or isn’t able to make any insulin at all. We need insulin, we cannot live without it. Insulin allows the glucose in the blood stream to be used up as energy in the body and so helps to manage the level of glucose in the blood. When there is not enough insulin being made or the insulin is not working properly, the level of glucose in the blood stays too high.
It is very important in the long term to keep the glucose level in the blood as near normal as possible to keep the body healthy.
There are two types of diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is triggered off suddenly, often by another illness or virus, causing damage to the pancreas so that insulin is not able to be produced. People with Type 1 diabetes have to take insulin by injection every day to stay well.
Type 2 diabetes can be triggered by a number or combination of things which place extra strain/stress on the body to produce more insulin (eg age, pregnancy, obesity, some medications, poor lifestyle). This leads to the pancreas getting tired and not being able to make enough insulin. People with Type 2 diabetes are still making insulin but need to take medications (sometimes including insulin) and adjust their lifestyle to help reduce the strain on their pancreas.
The different types of diabetes mean people of any age can develop diabetes, including children.
Diabetes can’t be cured but it can be well managed so that people can lead long, full and active lives.
Everyone with diabetes needs to eat healthy foods, at regular times throughout the day, take medication regularly and be physically active every day. Regardless of what type of diabetes you have, if it is not well managed and your blood glucose levels remain high you will develop complications of diabetes, damaging your eyes, heart, kidneys and feet.
Taking your diabetes seriously and managing it well are essential factors in preventing this from happening.
We are all at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes but some of us have greater risk than others. It is estimated that there are 60,000 people in New Zealand who have diabetes and do not know it. This is because, with Type 2 diabetes, blood glucose can creep up slowly over time and not cause symptoms of high blood glucose.
Symptoms of high blood glucose are: excessive thirst, passing urine frequently, feeling tired, blurred vision, weight loss and recurring infections (thrush, boils) that will not heal.
Are you at greater risk of developing diabetes?
- Are you older than 40?
- Are you of Māori, Asian or Pacifika ethnicity and older than 20?
- Is there diabetes in your family?
- Did you have diabetes during a pregnancy or give birth to a very large baby?
- Are you overweight?
If you have two or more of these risk factors, or any of the symptoms of high blood glucose, you should ask your family doctor (GP) to arrange a blood test for diabetes and this may need to be done annually.
It is important to know if you have diabetes so that you can learn about it and keep well.
What services are available for people with diabetes in Hawke's Bay ?
If you have diabetes, taking the time to learn about your diabetes and how to best manage it will be key to staying well. There are many ways to do this:
- You will need a family doctor. You will need to see your family doctor and practice nurse regularly for your routine, ongoing diabetes care. This is particularly important as your diabetes treatment will change over time, and as new treatments become available.
- You should also stick with one pharmacy and get to know your pharmacist.
- At times, you may need extra support from other health professionals for example a dietitian, podiatrist, psychologist, Sport Hawke’s Bay or those who are specially trained in the management of aspects of diabetes for example a diabetes dietitian, medical specialist or nurse specialist. Your family doctor or practice nurse will be able to refer you.
- Other people with diabetes – living with diabetes is a big adjustment and nobody understands the challenges as well as someone who has lived through the same experience.
- Diabetes Hawke’s Bay is an organisation set up by people living with diabetes to support those living with the condition.