How much do you know about Diabetes?
The 10th edition of the Diabetes Atlas by the International Diabetes Federation states that 24 million adults aged 20 to 79 were living with Diabetes in the IDF Africa Region in 2021.
The IDF Africa Region comprises 48 Sub-Saharan countries, including Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Zambia, and Senegal. Up to 54% of this population is undiagnosed.
Diabetes does not always present with symptoms that are observable to the patient. Coupled with a lack of regular screening in a population with poor health seeking behaviour, it is not surprising that more than half of the people living with Diabetes in Sub-Saharan Africa are undiagnosed.
The celebration of World Diabetes Day, slated for November 14 every year, is an initiative by the IDF and WHO to bring awareness to the disease and push for initiatives to address Diabetes as a global health concern.
To support this goal, we will be taking you through an overview of diabetes and how you can get help if you have it.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a disease that is characterised by the body's inability to either produce or utilise insulin to lower the levels of sugar in the blood. The body gets this sugar from food. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that works to break down this sugar so that the body can make use of the energy the sugar breakdown produces. Living with diabetes undiagnosed and consequently unmanaged could lead to several complications affecting the eyes, kidneys, lungs, heart, feet, and even skin.
What are the types of Diabetes?
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease more commonly seen in children and adolescents, even though it can develop at any age. Cells of the immune system attack the cells of the pancreas rendering it unable to produce insulin. It is also called insulin-dependent diabetes because people who live with it have to take insulin injections daily to manage it.
Type 2 Diabetes
In Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas can produce insulin, but the body cannot use it. It usually develops later in life and is much more common than Type 1 diabetes. Management requires lifestyle modification and sometimes the use of oral drugs to keep blood sugar levels low.
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that only occurs when a woman is pregnant. It poses significant risks for both the mother and the baby but disappears once the baby is born. However, both mother and child have higher risks of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.
What are the Risk Factors for Diabetes?
Diabetes does not have a single identifiable cause, but medical research experts have identified some factors that significantly increase the risk of developing the disease.
These risk factors differ slightly depending on the type of diabetes being discussed.
Type 1 Diabetes Risk Factors
- Family History
- Black Race
- Previous injury to the pancreas via surgery, trauma, etc
- Viral infection
Type 2 Diabetes Risk Factors
- Family History
- Black Race
- More than 45 years of age
- Sedentary lifestyle
- History of heart disease or stroke
- High blood pressure
Gestational Diabetes Risk Factors
- Family History of Type 2 Diabetes
- Black Race
- Obesity before pregnancy
- More than 25 years of age
What are the Symptoms of Diabetes?
People do not always present with symptoms of diabetes until a test is done.
The symptoms of diabetes include:
- Increased thirst and urination
- Increased hunger and fatigue
- Unintended weight loss
- Blurry vision
- Dry mouth
- Itchy skin
What are the Complications of Diabetes?
Unmanaged or mismanaged diabetes could lead to more severe complications across the systems of the body. Some of these include:
- Loss of hearing
- Diabetic Retinopathy (disease of the eye caused by diabetes that could lead to blindness)
- Heart attack
- Coronary artery disease
- Kidney Failure
- Erectile Dysfunction
- Diabetic Foot Sores
How do Doctors Test for Diabetes?
A doctor can prescribe tests to confirm whether or not a person has diabetes. There are standard tests usually conducted to assess the level of sugar you have in your blood. These tests screen and confirm whether or not a person has diabetes. They are the random plasma glucose, fasting plasma glucose, HbA1c, and oral glucose tolerance tests.
Random Plasma Glucose Test
This is a blood test done to assess the levels of blood glucose you typically have. Fasting is not required for this test. A random plasma glucose value equal to or greater than 200 mg/dL indicates that the person has Diabetes.
Fasting Plasma Glucose
This blood test requires the person taking it to abstain from food for at least 8 hours before taking the test. A value of 126 mg/dL confirms that the person used diabetes.
The HbA1c test is also known as the glycated haemoglobin test. It measures the amount of glucose bound to haemoglobin in the red blood cells. Haemoglobin is the protein in the red blood cells that transports carbon dioxide and oxygen to and from the lungs.
It is also an excellent way to determine blood sugar levels over the past three months.
This makes it the gold standard for testing for diabetes.
People living with diabetes are advised to perform this test every three to six months. If their blood sugar level is uncontrolled, it should be done more frequently.
Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT)
The oral glucose tolerance test is a blood test for glucose that takes about 2 hours. It tests how the body responds to sugar.
The first blood sample is taken after about 8 to 10 hours of fasting. Then you'll be given a solution containing 75 grams of sugar. Two hours after this, your blood sample will be taken again.
It is a screening test for diabetes. It confirms diabetes in pregnant women and prediabetes in people with a high fasting plasma glucose value but not high enough to meet the diagnosis for diabetes.
If you have any of the risk factors for diabetes, you should discuss this with a doctor and get screened as soon as possible.
The American Diabetes Association recommends that all adults older than the age of 45 should get screened for diabetes at least every 3 years regardless of their risk factor profile.
You can lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. Eat a balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables and exercise. Stop smoking.
If you have already been diagnosed with diabetes, abide by these and other management plans your doctor may prescribe. If you do these and keep your blood sugar level low, you should be able to live a healthy life.
Where to find help?
Thankfully, with Zuri Health, you can chat with a doctor and have laboratory tests done from the comfort of your home.
Zuri Health offers virtual consultations and the option to have samples for diagnostics tests taken at home.
Chat with Vera on WhatsApp at +234 913 000 6888 if you're in Nigeria or +254 756 551551 if you're in Kenya to start now!