What is diabetes?
Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose, or sugar, for our bodies to use for energy. The pancreas, an organ that lies near the stomach, makes a hormone called insulin to help glucose get into the cells of our bodies. When you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use its own insulin as well as it should. This causes sugars to build up in the blood.
Diabetes can cause serious health complications including heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, and lower-extremity amputations. Diabetes is predicted by a clear set of symptoms, but it still often goes undiagnosed.
Diabetes is a common hormonal problem that if untreated can lead to diabetes complications such as diabetic neuropathy, kidney problems, heart problems, retinopathy and other disorders. At advanced stages, diabetes can cause kidney failure, amputation, blindness and stroke.
However, complications can be prevented or significantly delayed by exercising good control of diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol.
What are the two major types of diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes (insulin-dependent) requires insulin to treat, is typically developed as a child or young adult, and is a disease that destroys pancreatic cells meaning no insulin production is possible.
Type 2 diabetes (non-insulin dependent diabetes) is considerably more common and typically affects people over the age of 45, who are also overweight. Those suffering from type 2 are unable to produce enough insulin, and sugar builds up in the bloodstream.
If the person you are caring for is a diabetic you will be aware of the treatment – tablets, injections, diet, exercise, etc. However, in some older people diabetes comes on gradually. It is helpful to be aware of the common signs. These are:
• Excessive thirst. Feeling more thirsty than usual may be a sign they are neglecting themselves and have become dehydrated. However, if they drink more than one glass of fluid and want more in ten minutes or so then you might look for other indicators.
• Going to the toilet more often than normal. Although this can be caused because the bladder has become weaker with age or they are taking a diuretic.
• Feeling more tired than is normal for them at their current age.
• Weight loss. But bear in mind weight loss is unusual in type 2 diabetes which usually occurs in people who are overweight.
• Genital itching or Thrush
• Skin infections such as boils, abscesses, sore feet and legs
• Cuts and wounds taking longer than normal to heal
• Experiencing blurred vision
None of these signs on their own indicate diabetes but the combination of two or more suggest further investigation is necessary. Type 1 diabetes can develop quickly over a short period of days or weeks. Because early symptoms are general, people can have type 2 for years without being aware of it.
What to do?
Arrange a visit to their GP as soon as possible. Having the symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean the person has diabetes. The Doctor will diagnose by checking a urine sample and arranging a blood test to check blood sugar levels. He will then prescribe any necessary medications and advise on diet and exercise to manage the condition. He will also arrange regular blood tests to make sure blood glucose levels stay balanced.