In Northern Ireland diabetes affects over 79,000 adults, however, many cases of diabetes are preventable and are the result of obesity.
There are two main types of diabetes – type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes, which cannot be prevented, develops when the insulin-producing cells have been destroyed and the body is unable to produce any insulin. It generally occurs in children and young adults. Type 1 accounts for approximately 10% of diabetes cases.
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 (also known as insulin resistance). Type 2 diabetes can often be prevented and accounts for 90% of all diabetes cases.
The increase in diabetes occurring in the population can be explained by rising levels of obesity, people living longer and improved detection and diagnosis of diabetes in primary care.
Diabetes, left untreated, can cause significant 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, PHA, said: “You can prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes by taking steps today to lose weight and improving your fitness. Having a family history of type 2 diabetes increases your chances of developing diabetes.”
If you are overweight or obese, the key step to preventing or delaying the onset of type 2 diabetes is to lose weight through making healthy food choices and being physically active for at least 30 minutes a day for five days a week. This is particularly important for women who have a history of gestational diabetes during pregnancy and who need to pay special attention after their pregnancy to their diet, exercise and 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 therefore very important and 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 many 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.
Public Health Agency