Health Health Matters

Would you recognise the warning signs of diabetes in a family member? 

Diabetes is the most prevalent chronic disease in South Africa. Very few of us don’t know someone living with diabetes or even someone who has lost their life due to diabetes.

This condition is the second highest cause of death in this country and nearly 80% of these deaths are in people younger than 60. Estimates are that 7% of South Africans aged between 21 and 79 years of age have diabetes.

Disability and death from diabetes can be managed and prevented if it is diagnosed early. Type 2 Diabetes – the most common type which affects about 90% of sufferers – can also be prevented by adopting a healthy lifestyle. This is why the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) has chosen the theme of Family and Diabetes for Diabetes Awareness Month in November and World Diabetes Day on 14 November.

The IDF is encouraging everyone to learn the early warning signs of diabetes so that you could recognise them in a family member. Their research has shown that about 1 in every 2 people with diabetes is undiagnosed – particularly those with Type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, fewer than 1 in 5 people could spot the warning signs of diabetes in their families.

Undiagnosed and untreated diabetes can lead to life-threatening complications. This includes stroke, heart disease, kidney failure, blindness and amputation of limbs due to infections which don’t heal. Because the initial symptoms of Type 2 diabetes are mild it may take up to an average of seven years for the condition to be diagnosed – and by then many of the complications could have already set in.

The early warning signs of diabetes are excessive thirst, passing more urine than normal, hunger despite having eaten, tiredness, blurred vision, wounds that won’t heal, and tingling or loss of feeling in hands and feet. If anyone in your family experiences some of all of these symptoms they should visit a doctor or clinic. A simple, on the spot, blood test, can show whether their blood sugar level is high.

The family also has an important role when it comes to reducing the risk for diabetes – over 50% of Type 2 diabetes is preventable. The rapid rise in the number of people suffering from this condition is linked to our modern lifestyle.

Healthy habits can be established from a young age in the family setting. It’s also never too late to adopt a healthier lifestyle – there are many success stories of people who have reversed their Type 2 diabetes with lifestyle changes.

Families should eat healthy meals, with plenty of fruit and vegetables and smaller portions of starchy foods. Everyone should be encouraged to consume fewer cold drinks, sweets, ice cream, biscuits, chips and other snacks high in sugar and starch. And what is better family time than getting outdoors, in the fresh air, and exercising together?

You can find out more about diabetes, take a quiz to test your diabetes knowledge and complete an assessment to establish your own risk at www.worlddiabetesday.org/about/2019-theme/

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