Your Health A-Z

Take the time to #CheckWhatMatters this Diabetes Awareness Month

In South Africa, it is estimated that 3.85 million South Africans suffer from diabetes, with many remaining undiagnosed. The truth is we check our social media activity more than enough, but can the same be said about our own health?

The undiagnosed population

Approximately 50% of diabetes cases, globally, are undiagnosed. In Africa, the proportion of undiagnosed diabetes is 69.2%, and in South Africa, almost 1,4 million people have undiagnosed diabetes.

By the time these individuals approach a health care provider to be checked for the disease, 30% of those with undiagnosed type 2 diabetes have already developed complications. Diabetes complications include heart disease, stroke, blindness, amputations and kidney failure. In most cases, these complications could have been avoided entirely by early diagnosis and proper treatment.

This World Diabetes Day (14 November), Mediclinic is asking the public to #CheckWhatMatters and make getting screened a priority by getting a free blood glucose and blood pressure test at participating hospitals.

diabetes, free screenings

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition that inhibits your body’s ability to properly regulate its blood glucose levels. There are two different types of diabetes, type 1 and type 2.  It is important to see your health care provider so that the right type of treatment plan can be started if necessary.

The symptoms of diabetes are often mistaken for other ailments and many people fail to seek suitable medical advice. The symptoms can affect anyone, regardless of age or gender and common symptoms include:

  • Being very thirsty
  • Frequent urination
  • Rapid weight loss or gain
  • Extreme unexplained fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Irritability
  • Increased hunger
  • Tingling or numbness in hands or feet

Anyone presenting with these symptoms should consult with their GP to accurately diagnose the cause. Remember the earlier your diabetes is diagnosed and treated, the better.

5 Myths about diabetes

Tracy Ugarchund, a dietician at Mediclinic Constantiaberg, sets the record straight about five common misconceptions surrounding one of the world’s fastest-growing diseases: type 2 diabetes.

Myth 1: Diabetes is caused by being overweight

Type 2 diabetes is caused by a combination of factors, including genetics and lifestyle, and excess weight is certainly a risk factor.

Ugarchund says that other risk factors – like family history, ethnicity and age – also play a role, however, the causes are wide-ranging. “I have lots of patients who walk into my rooms who aren’t overweight or obese, but who are eating unhealthily,” she explains.

Myth 2: Eating sugar causes diabetes Diabetes develops when something disrupts your body’s ability to turn the food you eat into energy. So while excessive amounts of sugar could lead to type 2 diabetes, a diet that’s high in calories from any source will also contribute to weight gain (and, possibly, type 2 diabetes).

One thing’s for certain: sugar-laden beverages are best avoided.

Myth 3: If you have diabetes, your body isn’t producing enough insulin

According to Ugarchund, if it’s type 1, then you don’t have enough insulin, but with type 2 it could either be that you don’t have enough insulin, or you have less than you should. “Or you have enough but it’s not efficient.”

Most people with type 2 diabetes have enough insulin when they’re first diagnosed – it’s just that the insulin isn’t doing its job. In this case, your body’s insulin is not causing your cells to absorb glucose from your food. If this continues, your pancreas may eventually give up and stop producing enough insulin.

Myth 4: Diabetics can’t eat chocolate

“Anything can be eaten in reasonable, limited quantities,” says Ugarchund who adds, that when it comes to chocolate, there are better options for diabetics ­– like dark chocolate.

Bottom line: if you’re following a healthy and balanced diet, exercising regularly, and watching your insulin intake, then diabetics can eat chocolate – in moderation.

Myth 5: Diabetic diets are too strict

If you’re diabetic, you’ll need to plan your meals – but that’s true for anybody who’s following a healthy lifestyle.

Type 2 diabetics should follow a diet that’s low in saturated and trans fats, moderate in salt and sugar, and high in lean protein, non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and fruit.

Get a free blood glucose and blood pressure test [dates and times] at participating hospitals.

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.