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Health Corner: What is diabetes?

In Australia, one person is diagnosed with diabetes every five minutes. Experts estimate there are 1.7 million Australians, and one in 11 adults around the world, living with diabetes. It’s particularly important to be aware of diabetes as we age so we asked Diabetes WA for their advice.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic condition where the body becomes unable to break down the glucose found in food and convert it into energy, because it either no longer produces insulin or cannot use insulin properly.

Type 1 – often called juvenile diabetes – is an autoimmune condition where the body attacks the cells that produce insulin. No one knows what causes it, but we do know it has nothing to do with lifestyle.

Type 2, which is sometime referred to as mature-onset diabetes, is a chronic condition where the body gradually becomes resistant to insulin or no longer produces enough insulin. While there are a number of uncontrollable risk factors such as age and ethnicity, type 2 is also associated with lifestyle factors – such as diet, exercise and weight.

What is my risk?

Knowing your risk is the first step in preventing or delaying a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. Some risk factors – such as your age and having a family history – cannot be changed. Other risk factors, such as being overweight, smoking and having a poor diet, can be changed.

To calculate your risk, visit https://diabeteswa.com.au/prevention or ask a health professional to help you complete the Australian Type 2 Diabetes Risk Assessment Tool. If you score highly, you should follow up with your doctor.

Could I have already have it?

People with type 1 rely on daily insulin injections to remain alive. It is very unlikely you could have type 1 diabetes and not know it.

Type 2 typically develops over a long period. In the early stages of the condition there are often no obvious symptoms. As type 2 is commonly (but not always) diagnosed at a later age, sometimes the signs are dismissed as part of “getting older”. In some cases the condition is not diagnosed until the person develops a complication, such as a foot ulcer.

It is for this reason one of the themes for this year’s National Diabetes Week, coming up in July, will be around early diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. Some symptoms to watch for include:

  • being excessively thirsty
  • going to the toilet more often
  • feeling tired
  • always feeling hungry
  • having cuts that heal slowly
  • blurred vision

What should I do?

Adopting a healthy lifestyle is the most powerful way to prevent type 2 diabetes.

This involves:

  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • eating a healthy diet that is rich in fruit and vegetables
  • limiting the amount of fats and sugars you eat
  • cutting back on the amount of alcohol you drink
  • being physically active
  • quitting smoking

If you have already been diagnosed with type 2, these same steps – along with monitoring blood glucose levels, taking any prescribed medications and having regular health checks – will help you to live well with this condition and minimise the risk of serious complications.

Where can I find out more?

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Diabetes WA runs a range of education courses that cover more specific topics such as meal planning, foot care, living with diabetes and using diabetes technology. If you are interested in finding out more please call them on 1300 001 880 or visit www.diabeteswa.com.au

You can also sign up to their free e-newsletters here.