Monday, 30 April 2012

Diabetes! How Much Do You Know?

There has been a lot of information in the press recently about Diabetes... but that's all they ever say Diabetes. How many people know there are actually THREE types of Diabetes?
  • Type 1 Diabetes 
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Gestational Diabetes
Three years ago, whilst pregnant with my youngest, I was diagnosed as having Gestational Diabetes which disappeared after the birth only to return again last year when I was diagnosed as having Type 2 Diabetes. Until I had been diagnosed with Diabetes I didn't know much about it apart from the usual stereotypes

"If they've got Diabetes it's cos they eat too much sugar"
"They're not fat so they can't have Diabetes cos only fat people get it"
"Well if they didn't eat so much junk food they wouldn't have Diabetes so it's their own fault"
"Haven't they outgrown it by now"
"Surely they should be better by now"
"I blame the parents, they're the reason they have Diabetes"

But this is because there is a lack of information about Diabetes. Especially Type 1 Diabetes! Everyone knows that if you're overweight or obese then it increases your risk of Diabetes, but you cannot get Diabetes just by eating sweets and sugar (although eating lots of sugary and fatty foods can lead to being overweight which will increase the risk of developing it). You also cannot catch Diabetes like a cold, or even an STD or develop it from an accident. Diabetes is also a hidden condition, and unless you know someone is suffering from it, then you can't tell they have it.

But what IS Diabetes? 
Whenever you eat anything your body turns that food into glucose (a form of sugar). An organ inside your body, called the Pancreas, then secretes a hormone called insulin. Insulin then allows this glucose to enter all the cells in your body to be used as energy. When your pancreas cannot create enough or any insulin, then the glucose builds up inside your blood and can cause serious health problems which can lead to blindness and amputations. 

Gestational Diabetes
When I was pregnant with the baby (now aged 2), I was diagnosed as having Gestational Diabetes. Gestational Diabetes (GD) is a type of Diabetes that arises during pregnancy when the body cannot produce enough insulin to meet the extra demands of the pregnancy. A simple blood test, called the Glucose Tolerance Test (GTT), can test for GD. A blood test is taken on a fasting stomach and another blood test is taken two hours after a sugary glucose drink. Then comparing the sugar levels with both tests, they can see how well your body coped with the glucose. But having GD, whilst increasing your risk of developing Diabetes or GD in another pregnancy doesn't mean you will develop either. In fact I know of friends who have had GD with one pregnancy but not with any subsequent ones. In fact with all 4 of my pregnancies I had the GTT but it was only on my 4th pregnancy that I failed the test and developed GD.  

Because most cases of GD are diagnosed during the second trimester of pregnancy, the baby's major organs are fairly developed it means that there is less risk to the baby than someone who already had Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes. It also doesn't mean that there is more chance that the baby will develop Diabetes as it grows up or that the baby will be born with Diabetes. However it's better for both mother and baby if GD is diagnosed, instead of being left undiagnosed and untreated, which can be dangerous for both of them.

Once I was diagnosed as having GD I was referred to a dietician and a diabetic nurse to discus my diet and my blood glucose. Whilst most pregnant women can control their GD with diet and excercise, I was given insulin and a finger prick testing kit as well and shown how to use it. I was told to note what my sugar levels were and what I was to try and get the levels below as well as being shown where and how to inject myself. At first I was really scared at the thought of pricking my finger and then injecting myself as I don't like needles, but it was easy to do and didn't hurt too much! As my due approached my consultant took the decision to induce me 2wks before her due date as I had had a previous big baby and the GD. The baby arrived 9 days early by VBAC (Virginal Birth After Caesarean) weighing 8lb 15oz and thankfully the GD disappeared shortly afterwards. 

Type 2 Diabetes. 
Last year I was feeling unwell and my doctor decided to test me to see if the Diabetes had returned as one of the biggest risks of GD is that it will return as Type 2 Diabetes. Unfortunately that's what mine had done, a year after the baby was born. Most of it is my fault as I didn't take my warning with the GD seriously and lose weight following the birth of the baby. If I had lost weight like I had originally planned I would have halved the risk of the Diabetes returning. 

Type 2 Diabetes is when the body still produces insulin, but not enough or the insulin produced isn't working properly. Type 2 Diabetes is the most common type of Diabetes and accounts for about 85-95% of all people with Diabetes (statistics taken from Diabetes UK).

Type 2 Diabetes is often controlled by a change in diet to a healthier one and increased physical activity as well as medication (such as tablets which is what I am on) or Insulin injections. 

Type 1 Diabetes
This type of Diabetes is rarer and is the one that few people are aware of. Type 1 Diabetes is when the pancreas doesn't produce any insulin at all because the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas have been destroyed. Nobody knows why these cells have been damaged and there is nothing you can do to prevent Type 1 Diabetes. If you suffer from Type 1 Diabetes then you will need insulin injections for the rest of your life. and means that you will need insulin. Type 1 Diabetes is also the most common form of Diabetes in children and is not caused by bad parenting or giving the child too much sugar, nor did the mother do anything whilst pregnant to cause the child's pancreas not to work properly.

Hopefully this information will help you understand Diabetes a little better and also help you to think before you speak to someone who suffers from Diabetes, especially a child, and not just assume that it is their fault they suffer from Diabetes and that its because they eat too much sugary foods.

How do you know if you have Diabetes?
With Diabetes, because some or all of the glucose stays in the blood and it isn't being used as fuel for energy, the body tried to reduce blood glucose levels by flushing the excess glucose out of the body in the urine. This means that the main symptoms of undiagnosed Diabetes can include:
* Passing urine more often than usual, especially at night
* Increased thirst
* Extreme tiredness
* Unexplained weight loss
* General itching or regular episodes of thrush
* Slow healing of cuts and wounds
* Blurred vision

In Type 1 Diabetes, the signs and symptoms are usually very obvious and develop very quickly, typically over a few weeks. The symptoms are quickly relieved once the Diabetes is treated and under control. 

In type 2 Diabetes, the signs and symptoms may not be so obvious, as the condition develops slowly over a period of years and may only be picked up in a routine medical check up. Symptoms are quickly relieved once Diabetes is treated and under control. 

If you are worried or suffering from any of the above symptoms then contact your Doctor as soon as possible and a simple blood test can confirm whether you have Diabetes or not. Early diagnosis, treatment and good control of diabetes is vital to reduce the chances of developing serious Diabetes complications. 

For more information check out the Diabetes UK website. They are also on Facebook and Twitter

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