With over 75,000 adults in Northern Ireland affected by diabetes, during Diabetes Week (8 to 14 June) the Public Health Agency (PHA) is encouraging everyone across Northern Ireland to be aware of how type 2 diabetes can be prevented, the dangers it can cause to your health and what the signs and symptoms of diabetes are to help ensure early diagnosis.
Diabetes is a condition where the amount of glucose in the blood is too high. This is because the pancreas does not produce enough insulin (or in some cases none at all), to help glucose enter the body’s cells.
There are two main types of diabetes – type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes develops when the insulin-producing cells in the body have been destroyed and the body is unable to produce any insulin. Type 2 diabetes develops when the body can still make some insulin, but not enough, or when the insulin that is produced does not work properly (known as insulin resistance).
The increase of diabetes occurring in the population can be explained by rising levels of obesity (which can cause type 2 diabetes), people living longer and improved detection and diagnosis of diabetes in primary care.
Diabetes, if left untreated, can cause serious long-term health complications such as heart disease, kidney damage, eye problems, which can affect vision, and foot problems leading to amputation.
Dr Brid Farrell, Consultant in Public Health Medicine with the PHA, said: “Having a family history of type 2 diabetes can increase your chances of developing diabetes. But it is possible to prevent by taking steps today to lose weight and improving fitness.”
If you are overweight or obese, the key step to preventing or delaying the onset of type 2 diabetes is to lose weight by making healthy food choices and being physically active 30 minutes a day, five days a week. This is particularly important for women with a history of gestational diabetes in pregnancy who need to pay special attention after pregnancy to their lifestyle choices for diet, exercise and the importance of maintaining a healthy body weight.
The symptoms of diabetes can include increased thirst, passing urine more frequently (bedwetting in children), extreme tiredness, slow healing infections, blurred vision and significant or unexplained weight loss. Symptoms of diabetes can develop quickly over days or weeks, and sometimes with type 2 diabetes, a person may have no symptoms. Early diagnosis is important. If you think you have diabetes speak to your GP or pharmacist.
Dr Farrell continued: “Diabetes is a lifelong condition, but complications can be prevented or delayed by controlling your blood sugar, and treating high blood pressure and high cholesterol. If you have diabetes, a healthy diet and regular exercise are very important.”
Diabetes is a serious condition which affects thousands of people across Northern Ireland. But by making healthier lifestyle choices such as eating a healthy, well-balanced diet and taking regular exercise, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes can be reduced.