29 March 2023

Understanding Diabetes: Causes, Symptoms and Prevention

by Susheela Mary (Nursing Manager)

This article explores the causes and symptoms of diabetes, as well as lifestyle changes that can help prevent or delay the onset of the disease. It also provides an overview of the various treatments available for diabetes, including medication and lifestyle modifications.

Patients taking a diabetes test

What happens when we eat food containing carbohydrates?

It breaks down into glucose and enters the blood stream. Glucose is the source of energy and we all need energy to stay active. For the glucose to get converted into energy it has to enter the cells. Each cell is like a locked door, unless you put a key it would not open the door for glucose.

Pancreas is the factory which produces these keys called as insulin. The pancreas has its soldiers who sense the amount of glucose in the blood after every meal and accordingly releases insulin. Each insulin key gets attached to the glucose, the key opens the door, glucose enters the cell and it gets converted into energy.

What happens in diabetes?

There is problem with the key that is the insulin. Either the keys produced are not enough which is the insulin insufficiency or the keys are defective which is known as insulin resistance, two most common reasons for getting Type 2 diabetes. Sometimes our own body cells can attack our organs thinking it’s a foreign body knows as auto immune disorder. In Type 1 diabetes the beta cells producing insulin are attacked and destroyed leading to no production of insulin at all. The only treatment for people with Type 1 diabetes is insulin.

What causes diabetes? Though the reason for type 1 diabetes is unknown the Type 2 diabetes has genetic predisposition, lifestyle and the recent infiltration of chemicals in food to blame.

What happens when you have diabetes? Raised blood glucose levels also called as hyperglycemia over a long period of time can damage the blood vessels and nerves leading to major health problems.

According to WHO:

Health impact of diabetes are

Over time, diabetes can damage the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, and nerves. Adults with diabetes have a two- to three-fold increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. Combined with reduced blood flow, neuropathy (nerve damage) in the feet increases the chance of foot ulcers, infection and eventual need for limb amputation. Diabetic retinopathy is an important cause of blindness and occurs as a result of long-term accumulated damage to the small blood vessels in the retina. Close to 1 million people are blind due to diabetes. Diabetes is among the leading causes of kidney failure. People with diabetes are more likely to have poor outcomes for several infectious diseases, including COVID-19.

While taking treatment for diabetes there is always a risk of getting into hypoglycemia which is the low blood glucose levels which occurs due to irregular eating habits or excessive activity. Hypoglycemia can cause tremors, confusion, profuse sweating and at times even seizures. The immediate identification and treatment with simple sugar is important, also identifying the reason for hypoglycemia is very important to prevent future episodes.

Type2 diabetes can be prevented and can be postponed

Lifestyle measures have shown to be effective in preventing or delaying the onset of type 2 diabetes. To help prevent type 2 diabetes and its complications, people should:

  • Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. Healthy BMI with normal waist hip ratio.
  • Be physically active – doing at least 30 minutes of regular, moderate-intensity activity on most days. More activity is required for weight control.
  • Eat a healthy diet, avoiding sugar and saturated fats and
  • Avoid tobacco use. Smoking increases the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. High levels of nicotine can lessen the effectiveness of insulin.

Diagnosis and treatment of diabetes;

Diabetes can be diagnosed with simple blood sugar testing. Glucose tolerance test and HBA1C are the other confirmatory investigations.

Treatment of diabetes involves diet and physical activity along with lowering of blood glucose and the levels of other known risk factors that damage blood vessels like blood pressure and blood lipids. Tobacco use cessation is also important to avoid complications.

  • people with type 1 diabetes require insulin, people with type 2 diabetes can be treated with oral medication, but may also require insulin;
  • blood pressure control through life style modification and medication
  • foot care (patient self-care by maintaining foot hygiene, wearing appropriate footwear, seeking professional care for ulcer management and regular examination of feet by health professionals).
  • screening and treatment for retinopathy which causes blindness
  • blood lipid control to regulate cholesterol levels
  • screening for early signs of diabetes-related kidney disease and treatment.

Impaired fasting glucose(IFG) and impaired glucose tolerance(IGT)

The IFG and IGT are intermediate condition which can transition between normality and diabetes. People with IGT or IFG are at high risk of progressing to type 2 diabetes, although this is not inevitable.

The national diabetes prevention program (DPP) by CDC – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages everyone to participate in evidence based lifestyle change program to reduce the risk of diabetes. The key components of the program encourages to:

  • Get Active to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
  • Track your activity
  • Eat well to prevent Type 2 Diabetes
  • Track your food
  • Get more active
  • Regular Health checks to know your Health Status

Be a Calorie Detective

  • Read  labels, count what you eat
  • Burn More Calories Than You Take In
  • Shop and Cook to Prevent T2
  • Eat Well Away from Home – know how to stay on track with your eating goals at restaurants and social events. 
  • More Volume Fewer Calories

Manage Stress 

  • yoga meditation simple walks listening to music find out what suits you
  • Take charge of what’s around you

Find Time for Fitness

  • Move those muscles
  • Set up your Physical Activity Plan

Take Charge of Your Thoughts

  • Manage slips and self-defeating thoughts
  • Cope with Triggers for unhealthy behaviors

When Weight Loss Stalls

  • Take a Fitness Break
  • Learn how to cope with some challenges of staying active
  • Stay Active Away from Home even on vacation
  • Have Healthy Food You Enjoy
  • Get Enough Sleep
  • Get Back on Track
  • Strengthen you physical activity plan
  • Mindful Eating and Mindful Moving

Get Support for following healthy lifestyle

Stay Motivated to Prevent T2 diabetes

Prevent T2—for Life!

Blog written by Susheela Mar

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