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Understanding diabetes and managing your health

Diabetes is a chronic condition that occurs when there is a problem with how the body produces or uses insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas and plays a crucial role in the body's ability to process and regulate sugar levels.

According to the Ministry of Health, in New Zealand, over 250,000 people have been diagnosed with diabetes, with Type 2 being the most common among them. Around the world, diabetes affects over 400 million people.

Did you know type 2 diabetes is also the leading cause of kidney disease?

Roughly 1 out of 3 adults with diabetes is affected by kidney disease.
The kidneys' main job is to filter wastes and extra fluids out of the blood to produce urine. It helps the body control blood pressure and regulate the hormones we need to stay healthy.

When they don't work properly, the high blood sugar levels damage the blood vessels in the kidneys, leading to malfunction, leaks and potential kidney failure over time.

The most common symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Increased hunger and thirst
  • Weakness and fatigue
    Anxiety or other mood swings
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Slow-healing cuts and bruises
  • Recurrent infections
  • Dry skin
  • Blurry vision

It's important to note that some people with diabetes may not experience any symptoms at all.

How do I know if I have diabetes?

The best way to know if you have diabetes is to get a blood test. It will measure your average blood sugar levels over the past 2-3 months and detect any alteration in your system.

The early sign of diabetic kidney disease can be detected through a simple urine test. It will detect if the kidneys are leaking unusual amounts of protein, a sign of kidney damage.

The early detection and right treatment could avoid more serious damage to the kidneys and other serious health complications, including stroke, heart disease, nerve damage and eye problems.

What are the most common types of diabetes and how do I treat them?

Type 1 - is an autoimmune disorder in which the body's immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. As a result, the body cannot produce insulin or regulate blood sugar levels. It is usually diagnosed in people under the age 25.

It cannot be prevented but instead controlled by a mix of medications, including daily insulin injections to manage blood sugar levels, healthy eating and exercising.

Type 2 - It happens when the body either becomes resistant to the effects of insulin or the pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin to keep up with the body's needs. It often happens in adults over 30 or 40 years old, but the diagnosis in children and teenagers is increasing.

Type 2 diabetes is known to have a genetic component, but it is usually related to lifestyle factors and unhealthy habits, including a poor diet, sedentarism and being overweight.

Keep in mind that even if Type 2 diabetes run in your family, it doesn't mean you will develop the condition. Your lifestyle choices can significantly impact your risk and help prevent or postpone its onset.

Gestational diabetes - About 4% - 8% of pregnant women in New Zealand develop gestational diabetes. It is a precursor to Type 2 diabetes and It usually goes away after the baby is born, but if untreated, it can lead to health problems for both mum and baby. The treatment includes healthy eating, exercising, blood glucose tests and potentially insulin injections.

How often should I get check-up tests?

Newly diagnosed patients should test for blood sugar levels every 3 months, and stable patients every 6 months. Blood pressure, cholesterol and kidneys tests are recommended once a year.

Screening for diabetes

Screening for diabetes involves testing for high sugar levels in people that do not have symptoms of the disease but are likely to develop it. They usually happen as part of a regular routine test for heart and cardiovascular disease. Here, the goal is to detect early signs of diabetes so that it can be treated before other complications develop.

For both men and women, screening should start at the age of 18 if they are overweight or obese, with one or more additional health risk factors.

For men with no identified health risk factors, screenings should be done at least every 3 years after the age of 45. Women, on the other hand, should begin screenings at age 55. If there is any health risk factor, the age gap drops to 30 and 40 years.

How can we help?

It all starts with a blood test, and you can ask a nurse or doctors for a referral if you have any of the above symptoms.

If your test results show elevated blood sugar levels or other indications of diabetes, our doctors could recommend you to further testing or refer you to a specialist for further evaluation.

Our Manage Better Health Courses from the Wellness Support Team can also help you getting assistance to better manage your health and learn how to cope with diabetes if needed.

The courses are a great opportunity for anyone dealing with long term conditions (physical and/or mental wellbeing) or is a caregiver for someone with a long term condition.

Patients can be referred by their doctors, nurses, health coaches/wellness advisors, or can self-refer if they wish.

If you would prefer to see someone individually/one-to-one, ask your doctor if there is a Health Coach at the clinic. Health Coaches aim to build people’s motivation and capability to better self-manage their physical and emotional wellbeing needs. The health coach can support you and your whānau to access community and online resources/supports to enhance your social, emotional and physical wellbeing.

Find out more about our Wellness Support Team and their courses.

Every small step plays a huge part in your health and the life of your whanau and everyone else around you, so don't hesitate to schedule a regular check-up and discuss with your doctors any concerns or symptoms you may have.

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