Are you having diabetes?
Statistics on diabetes in Singapore is far from sweet. One in three people are at risk of getting diabetes at some point in their lives. And if nothing is done to turn things around, at least a million Singaporeans may suffer from diabetes by 2050.
Diabetes mellitus is a condition where the body does not convert sugar from food into energy properly. During digestion, carbohydrates and sugars in food are turned into glucose and then carried to the cells by blood vessels to be converted into energy.
The body uses the hormone insulin to process glucose. A body that does not produce enough insulin or cells that become resistant to insulin would not be able to extract glucose from the bloodstream, leading to higher-than-normal blood sugar levels. In fact, most of the symptoms of diabetes result from the high levels of glucose in the blood.
Two types of diabetes
Diabetes is normally categorized as either type 1 or type 2.
Type 1 diabetes is often diagnosed early in life. While the exact causes are not yet known, research has suggested that it could be triggered by genetic predisposition and exposure to environmental factors such as viral infections.
Although it can start at any age, it’s most common in children and young adults, with children aged 4 to 6 and 10 to 14 being the age group most frequently diagnosed with the disease. The symptoms of type 1 diabetes can also develop quickly – over days or months and are often severe.
The more common type of diabetes, type 2 diabetes, may develop at any age but is more frequently seen in people older than 40. It is categorized typically the result of poor diet and lifestyle choices, making the body more prone to high blood sugar levels.
Type 2 diabetes is often known as the “silent killer” as it manifests more gradually than type 1, developing over the course of several years with few warning signs. In fact, it is possible not to have any obvious warning signs. Some patients don’t get diagnosed until they suffer from long-term damage caused by the disease.
Common symptoms of diabetes
Type 1 and type 2 diabetes share a number of symptoms such as frequent urination, excessive thirst and unexplained hunger are three of the first indications of the disease. Patients will urinate more frequently as their kidneys are working harder to filter out the rising glucose levels in the body. This leads to dehydration and extreme thirst. When too much sugar accumulates in the urine, the patient’s urine may appear murky with a fruity or sweet smell.
Patients will also get hungry more often because the body is not converting the food they eat into energy. As more food is consumed, more sugar enters their circulatory system, setting off a vicious cycle.
Symptoms of type 1 diabetes
In addition to the common symptoms, type 1 diabetes patients may also experience other symptoms such as sudden and unintended weight loss even when their eating habits have not changed. That’s because their bodies are burning muscle and fat for energy when they are unable to gain energy from food.
The body produces ketones when it switches to burning fat for fuel. These ketones accumulate in the blood to dangerous levels, leading to flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing and loss of consciousness. This condition, known as diabetic ketoacidosis, may be life-threatening.
Additionally, children may experience bedwetting after being dry at night and some prepubescent girls may get yeast infections.
Symptoms of type 2 diabetes
When blood glucose levels are elevated for a long time, type 2 diabetes patients may come down with yeast infections as the high glucose levels make it conducive for yeast to feed on and thrive. Infections can grow in any warm, moist fold of skin including between fingers and toes, under breasts and around sexual organs.
In addition, patients may suffer from slow-healing sores or cuts as the high blood sugar can affect blood flow and cause nerve damage, making it hard for the body to heal wounds. Some patients also feel pain, numbness or tingling feelings in their hands and feet as a result of nerve damage.
It’s important to spot the symptoms of diabetes early, as timely treatment can help patients avoid further damage to the heart, blood vessels, nerves, eyes and kidneys. Go see a doctor if you have any possible symptoms of diabetes as home testing kits and blood glucose meters can’t diagnose diabetes accurately – these only show blood sugar levels at the moment of testing. The only way to confirm whether your symptoms are due to diabetes is to take a blood test that measure blood glucose levels at a clinic.
Almost one third of those with type 2 diabetes are unaware they have this illness as often there are no symptoms with type 2 diabetes. Therefore, in Singapore, the recommendation is to screen for diabetes in all adults aged 40 years and above as well as those with risk factors e.g., overweight/obesity (BMI > 25), 1st degree relative with DM, women with previous gestational DM, hypertension, high TG, etc.