Understanding diabetes

Posted on 30 July 2012

Meet our expert Dr Mary Seeber, a general practitioner at Mediclinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria, who has been treating people with diabetes for 30 years. 

I’ve just been diagnosed with diabetes – what exactly is it?
Diabetes mellitus, to use its full name, is a chronic condition that occurs when the body is unable to produce enough insulin or to use its insulin effectively to lower blood sugar (or glucose). This means that you land up with unusually high levels of glucose in your blood. High glucose levels are toxic and can cause severe organ damage. Healthy levels of insulin help to turn glucose from food into energy.

What are the warning signs of diabetes?
•    Frequent urination coupled with excessive thirst
•    Extreme tiredness and lack of energy
•    Constant hunger
•    Sudden weight loss or gain
•    Slow healing of wounds
•    Recurring infections
•    Blurred vision
•    Burning sensation in the feet
•    Sexual problems

I have Type 1 diabetes – what’s the difference?
There are three kinds of diabetes:
1.    Type 1 diabetes
With this diabetes your body produces no insulin at all. While this can’t be cured, it can be managed by having daily insulin injections for the rest of your life.
2. Type 2 diabetes
This is the most common type of diabetes, where the body produces insufficient insulin or doesn’t use insulin effectively. It usually occurs in adults, but increasingly in children and adolescents. Risk factors include a family history of diabetes, obesity, poor diet and/or a lack of physical activity.
3.     Gestational diabetes
This can occur in pregnant women and normally disappears after birth, although both mother and child are at risk of developing diabetes later in life.

How serious is diabetes?
Prolonged high blood-glucose levels can have a serious impact on your heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys and nerves. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness, kidney failure and lower-limb amputation, and it also means a higher risk of developing infections.
But if you manage diabetes by adopting a healthy lifestyle, getting regular exercise and keeping an eye on your health, possibly along with medication, you should live a long and healthy life.

If I’m diabetic, what should I be doing to stay healthy?

•    Eat well by choosing lean meat and lots of fruit and vegetables.
•    Exercise regularly. Aim for 30 minutes a day five times a week.
•    Keep tabs on your blood-glucose levels to make sure it stays within the range of 3,5 to 6,2 mmol per litre. You may need medication such as insulin or hypoglycaemic tablets to help manage your diabetes.
•    Watch your blood pressure. It should be 120/80mm Hg.
•    Manage your cholesterol by being conscious of what you eat, and possibly through medication.
•    Don’t smoke.
•    Drink alcohol in moderate amounts.

How common is this condition?
It is like a tsunami sweeping across the globe. It’s estimated that 366 million people were affected by diabetes in 2011. That’s one in 10 adults, according to the International Diabetes Federation, and of these, 50% went undiagnosed. By 2030 it’s estimated that 552 million people will suffer from diabetes.

If you have any questions on diabetes or any related issues, add them as a comment below or click on the Facebook link to post them there. For questions specific to your condition, talk to your doctor. To find a Mediclinic doctor near you, click on the FIND A DOCTOR/HOSPITAL link on the right.


The information provided in this article was correct at the time of publishing. At Mediclinic we endeavour to provide our patients and readers with accurate and reliable information, which is why we continually review and update our content. However, due to the dynamic nature of clinical information and medicine, some information may from time to time become outdated prior to revision.

Published in Diabetes

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