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Don't Underestimate Diabetes

July 2013

DiabetesPretty well everyone has heard of diabetes these days, and at our age more than likely we know of at least one person who is suffering from this problem.

There are currently around 3 million people in the UK who have been diagnosed with the condition and possibly around 850,000 who have the disease but have yet to be officially diagnosed.

It is a major problem because the numbers suffering from diabetes are growing steadily in the UK, up from less than one and a half million in the 1990s to over three million now and still growing.

Because it is so common, and because with correct treatment it can often be well controlled, sometimes diabetes isn’t taken as seriously as it should be.  Diabetes is a very serious problem which can lead to permanent damage and can prove fatal. Diabetes is associated with thousands of deaths every year. It is not a disease that can be taken lightly.

Generally, if you have diabetes, you are up to five times more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke. With lack of continual proper control it can increase the likelihood of atherosclerosis (which can lead to the furring and narrowing of blood vessels). Diabetes can result in a poor blood supply to the heart causing angina; it can damage the tiny blood vessels in your nerves leading to numbness; it can affect aspects of the digestive system and it can affect your eyesight and kidneys.

Diabetes occurs when your body stops properly controlling the levels of glucose in your blood. These levels are usually controlled by a hormone called insulin which is produced by the pancreas. When food is digested and enters your bloodstream, the insulin moves glucose out of the blood and into cells where it is broken down to produce the energy we need in our normal lives.

When you have diabetes, this process of breaking down glucose into energy becomes impaired, either because there is not enough insulin to move the glucose, or the insulin you are producing is not working properly.

There are two different types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin. This means your glucose levels increase which can seriously damage the body’s organs. Type 1 diabetes usually occurs with younger people and is less common than Type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is when the body does not produce enough insulin, or the body’s cells do not react properly to the insulin. Again glucose can build up in the blood with the potential for damaging results.

Type 2 diabetes accounts for nearly 90% of the diabetes diagnosed among adults in the UK. Recent research indicates that a high percentage of Type 2 disease is caused by modern lifestyles and diet.

For both types, the symptoms can include thirst, urinating frequently, particularly at night; feeling very tired and sometimes weight loss and loss of muscle.

The good news is that in recent years knowledge about the disease and treatment has developed dramatically and this has led to a sharp drop in the risk of dying from the disease.

The improvements are the result from improved screening so the disease is identified earlier, improved patient education and more aggressive treatment.

Type 1 diabetes is treated with insulin, through injections, by using an insulin pump or other methods.

Type 2 diabetes can sometimes be treated with diet and physical activity alone, or combining these with tablets. Due to the normally progressive nature of the condition, insulin treatment may be required later in life. Insulin cannot be taken in tablet form because it would be broken down in the stomach before it could work. Diabetes medication cannot cure diabetes and most people will have to take it for the rest of their lives.

There are a number of trials currently being undertaken which could change treatments in the future.  For instance, trials are underway in which cell structures are reprogrammed to alter the need for insulin. Other trials have shown promising results in the use of stem cells to regenerate the beta cells in the pancreas, which secrete insulin to control high glucose levels in the blood.

But as yet there is no cure, and if you know someone who has diabetes, or if indeed you are diagnosed yourself, then it is a problem that needs to be taken very seriously


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