You’ve heard it over and over again – “If you’re overweight, the chances of developing diabetes increases.” So you watch your weight and when the scale tells you that you’re well within the limit set by the BMI chart, you’re well satisfied. Then you notice that you’re losing weight, feeling a lot more tired both mentally and physically, you are forever thirsty and the visits to the loo are increasing. So you visit the doctor, and listen in astonishment as he tells you, “Buddy! You’re diabetic.” This seems horribly wrong. After all, you’re NOT piling on the kilos? So how come you’re diabetic?
Well to understand that mystery, you first need to know just how diabetes raises its ugly head. Here’s how it happens. “The pancreas in your body produces the hormone insulin to break down glucose (which you get from foods like rice, bread, potatoes, fruits, milks) and turns it into energy. When there’s a glitch in this hormone—either the body’s not producing enough, or it’s not responding properly—the glucose piles start to build up in the blood, leading to diabetes,” says Dr Surender Kumar, Endocrinologist, AIIMS.
Now there are many types of diabetes, but there are three major players:
1. Type 1 diabetes: Usually diagnosed in kids and adolescents, this is when the pancreas is unable to produce the insulin required to break down the glucose. Type 1 diabetes is unfortunately not preventable, and neither is it caused by taking too much sugar. It happens when the body’s defence system starts attacking and destroying the insulin-making cells in the body. There’s also no miracle cure. The only way to get insulin into the body is to have it injected in artificially.
2. Type 2 diabetes: The most common type, this occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough of insulin or the body does not respond to the normal amounts of insulin it’s producing, something known as insulin resistance. Here’s an important point to remember: If caught early, medication and a number of lifestyle changes can help improve insulin sensitivity.
3. Gestational diabetes: As the word implies, this kind is limited to pregnant women and according to Wikipedia, occurs in about 2% to 5% of all pregnancies. The online encyclopaedia also states that while the disease is treatable, about 20% to 50% of women will develop type 2 diabetes later in life. There’s also additional risk. If left untreated, gestational diabetes can cause medical problems in the child including high birth weight, skeletal muscle malformations and more.
Knowing the facts about the disease is still a long way from noticing all the symptoms and making sure that you go in for a check-up. Most people are blissfully unaware that they could be the next victim. And in a country like India which has a total population of 50.8 million diabetics that can be a huge problem.
Here’s what to look out for:
1. Classical symptoms like frequent urination (polyuria) and increased thirst (polydipsia).
2. Increased hunger (polyphegia). This is because insulin is also responsible for stimulating hunger and so in order to cope with high sugar levels, insulin is produced faster.
3. Weight gain or loss: Increased appetite can lead to a gain in weight, but you also need to look out for a loss in weight. Water loss and the metabolism of fat and protein will cause a sufferer to lose weight.
4. Fatigue: Diabetics tend to feel exhausted more quickly. Since the cells can’t metabolise glucose, they start to break down the reserve body fat. While this may not seem so bad, this means that the cells are working overtime as it takes longer for them to break down fat than glucose. This is what causes fatigue.
5. Irritability: With the mind and body tired, patience levels tend to drop and you’ll tend to snap more frequently.
6. Blurred vision: Prolonged high blood glucose causes body fluid to be pulled out of the eye which makes it difficult for a diabetic to focus.
7. Poor wound healing: High blood sugar makes it difficult for the body’s white blood cells to flourish. With the immune system not working to its fullest, it takes longer for wounds to heal.
8. Genetics: If your family has a history of diabetes, then the chances are high that you’ll also develop the disease.
But if all this seems like bad news, there’s also good news. All it takes is a little determination on your part. Lifestyle changes like getting regular exercise, avoiding smoking, cutting back on alcohol, eating a balanced diet, checking your blood glucose levels, regular visits to the doctor can all help you catch the disease early or if not early at least help you maintain your health over the long term.
So what are you waiting for? Call the doctor for a checkup today.
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