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No sugarcoating adult-onset diabetes

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Foot care: Decreased feeling in feet may result in failure to notice small cuts and blisters. Lack of notice could mean lack of treatment

You do not need insulin injections. You do not have to stick your finger every day to check the blood sugar. You never had a problem with eating sweets. So, you do not have diabetes, right?

Not so fast. Do you sometimes feel more thirsty than you should? Do you urinate a bit too often? Maybe you feel hungry too soon after eating, or feel more tired than you used to? Are scrapes and sores taking a little too long to heal?

If you answered “Yes” to several of the above questions, you may have adult-onset (Type 2) diabetes. In Type 1 diabetes, the body loses cells that make insulin — a hormone necessary to metabolise sugar. In Type 2 diabetes, the body produces less insulin than it needs or becomes less sensitive to insulin. Type 2 diabetes can run in the families, but lack of physical activity and excess weight can also heighten the risk. The chance of getting Type 2 diabetes increases with age, especially after 45. Type 2 diabetes is also more common in Blacks, Hispanics, American Indians and Asians.

After you eat, the body absorbs carbohydrates from the gut and blood sugar levels go up. In response, the pancreas produces insulin, a hormone that drives sugar from blood into cells. The cells can then use sugar as fuel. In Type 2 diabetes, this process begins to fail. The pancreas does not make enough insulin, or the body is not as sensitive to insulin as it should be. Because of this, not enough sugar enters the cells. This lack of fuel results in feeling tired and hungry. Blood sugar levels stay higher than normal, for longer than normal.

High blood sugar can damage blood vessels, causing complications. Heart problems, strokes, kidney disease and high blood pressure can occur. If small blood vessels that supply nerves become damaged, nerve damage becomes possible. Tingling, numbness, burning or pain that usually begin at the tips of the toes or fingers and slowly spreads upward, may follow. In time, it is possible to lose sensation in hands and feet. Damage to the nerves that control digestion can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea or constipation. For men, erectile dysfunction may become an issue.

Damage to blood vessels that supply the eyes can lead to vision impairment. Hearing impairment is also more common in people with diabetes.

Decreased feeling in feet may result in failure to notice small cuts and blisters. Lack of notice could mean lack of treatment. These injuries may not heal and could grow into ulcers, which may then become infected. Infected diabetic foot ulcers are difficult to heal.

Your doctor can do simple tests to figure out if you have or are beginning to develop Type 2 diabetes. A fasting blood sugar test shows how well, at the time of the test, your body is able to control blood glucose levels. Glycated Hemoglobin test shows how well your body has been controlling blood sugar levels for the two to three months before the test.

If your doctor diagnoses you with diabetes, you should commit to managing it. There are several things you can do to lower the risk of complications.

Healthy eating and physical activity should become a part of your daily routine. Have regular doctor appointments, including eye examinations. Take your medications as prescribed. Keep your immunisations up to date, because diabetes can weaken your immune system. Flu and pneumonia vaccines can prevent serious illness.

Take care of your teeth — brush and floss every day, and see your dentist regularly. Diabetes can increase the risk of gum infections, and proper dental care can lessen this risk. If your gums bleed or look red or swollen, have a dentist check them right away.

Pay attention to your feet. Wash them daily in lukewarm water, then dry them gently, especially between the toes. Afterwards, moisturise your feet. Inspect your feet for cuts, scrapes or blisters, as well as redness and swelling. If you find a foot problem that is not healing, see a doctor.

Stop smoking. Cut down on alcohol. Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under control.

Above all — learn everything you can about diabetes and make sustainable, long-term, healthy lifestyle changes.

•Mike Serebrennik is a physician by training and now a full-time entrepreneur, investor and writer. He is also a director of product development and sourcing at Lighthouse Medical Supplies, Ltd, a local company dedicated to helping patients and healthcare providers lower the cost and increase the quality of care.

Mike Serebrennik