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Diabetes is a disorder in which the body is unable to properly regulate blood sugar resulting in blood sugar levels that climb too high and over time, causes damage to various body tissues. There are more than 1 million Australians currently living with diabetes and that figure continues to rise.
Over time, high blood glucose levels can damage the body’s organs. Possible complications include damage to large (macrovascular) and small (microvascular) blood vessels, which can lead to heart attack, stroke, and problems with the kidneys, eyes, teeth, feet and nerves. Other parts of the body can also be affected by diabetes, including the digestive system, the skin, sexual organs, teeth and gums, and the immune system. Chronic sufferers may experience debilitating consequences.
In all cases of diabetes, the underlying issue is the body’s level of and/or reaction to the hormone insulin. It is the insulin’s job to keep our blood sugar levels down and our pancreas should naturally release some in response to increased blood sugar like after eating. When the body does not produce enough (or any) insulin or the cells of the body do not respond properly, then we have diabetes.
There are three main types of diabetes known as gestational, Type 1 and Type 2.
Generally, gestational diabetes is a disorder that some women experience during pregnancy affecting up to 4% and may lead to further complications for mother and baby.
Type 1 diabetes usually starts very early in life and will create a reliance on injectable insulin for survival and must maintain a proper injection schedule in order to keep their blood sugar levels under control.
Type 2 diabetes is the main form and accounts for around 90% of all cases. It generally develops in adults. This is either the pancreas not producing enough insulin or the body not responding properly to the insulin because cells have lost their sensitivity to it.
High blood glucose levels slow down your immune system which needs to prevent and fight infection. This makes it more difficult for the immune system to function correctly.
Keeping blood pressure, blood glucose, cholesterol levels and your weight within recommended ranges will help reduce your risk. Being a non-smoker is also very beneficial. It is therefore vital that those diagnosed with diabetes ensure they have regular check-ups to detect complications early and better manage the disease.
Through adopting healthy eating habits, reducing alcohol intake, being a healthy weight, and exercising, it is possible to lead a relatively normal, happy life. However, in some circumstances, the person may need further assistance. Regular monitoring of your blood glucose levels gives you information about how food, exercise medication, illness and stress affect your diabetes.
Diabetic coma – uncontrolled diabetes may lead to coma or unconsciousness therefore close monitoring and management is essential. Common causes of diabetes coma include a missed dose of insulin or an acute infection in a person with type 1 diabetes. Often this is the first sign that a person has developed type 1 diabetes. If this does occur, you are recommended to seek immediate medical assistance. Without urgent attention, the person may suffer from brain damage or worse case scenario, may die.
Cardiovascular – high blood pressure and increased risk of heart disease and stroke often accompany diabetes. Up to 80% of deaths in diabetics are due to a heart attack or stroke.
Nervous system – chronically elevated blood sugar levels can lead to nerve damage that may present as numbness often in the feet. Simple, minor foot infections can often lead to serious infections, which if left too long may result in the need to amputate part of the foot and leg. Up to 85 diabetics undergo lower limb amputations in Australia each week.
Kidney disease – About one third of people who have had diabetes for more than 15 years will eventually suffer from kidney disease.
Eye disease – as a result of diabetes, often the retina of the eye is attacked known as diabetic retinopathy leading to blindness.
Depression – about twice as common among diabetics as it is in the general population. The full cause is not clear but possibly from the stress of living with a chronic illness and the direct impact of metabolic changes on the brain.
Sexual function – at lease 50% of men with diabetes will experience erectile dysfunction as a result of nerve, circulatory or other complications. Women with diabetes can experience inconsistent menstrual cycles and earlier onset of menopause.
Overweight – almost all children with Type 2 diabetes are overweight. For adults, being overweight substantially increases your risk of developing diabetes. Obesity decreases the body’s sensitivity to insulin. Therefore, exercise plays a very important role in maintaining weight and healthy blood sugar levels.
Our carers are often assisting people with the management of their diabetes from doctor’s appointments to daily tasks that they are now inhibited due to the complications with their diabetes.