Let’s Talk About Diabetes
Diabetes is Australia’s fastest growing chronic condition, currently affecting an estimated 1.7 million Australians. About 280 of us develop diabetes every day, yet research shows that most of us think diabetes is not serious and underestimate our risk of developing the condition.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is the name given to a group of different conditions in which there is too much glucose in the blood. Glucose is the body’s main source of fuel or energy.
This is where insulin enters the story. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas and opens the glucose channels that lets glucose go from the blood to the body cells where energy is made. This process is called glucose metabolism.
In diabetes, the pancreas either cannot make insulin or cannot make enough insulin. Without insulin doing its job, the glucose channels are shut. Glucose builds up in the blood, leading to high blood glucose levels which cause the many health problems linked to diabetes.
The very different types of diabetes
While all types of diabetes are serious and complex, they have varying underlying causes and management options. There are three main types: type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is unique and different to type 2 diabetes. It is an autoimmune condition which rapidly results in complete insulin deficiency and requires lifelong insulin replacement via injection or insulin pump for survival. This condition is not related to any lifestyle factors and cannot be prevented.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes and is often triggered by being inactive or carrying excess weight around the abdomen. It tends to run in families and it is not uncommon to have high cholesterol and high blood pressure as well. Unlike type 1 diabetes, where the body destroys insulin producing cells in the pancreas, type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder in which the body either does not produce enough insulin or becomes resistant to the levels it is producing.
The two very different types of diabetes
Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy and usually goes away after the baby is born. From 5 to 8% of pregnant women will develop gestational diabetes between the 24th to 28th week of pregnancy. Women who have had gestational diabetes have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life with a 30 to 50% chance of developing it within 15 years after the pregnancy.
How to prevent type 2 diabetes
People at risk of type 2 diabetes can delay and even prevent the onset by following a healthy lifestyle. This includes regular physical activity, making healthy food choices and maintaining a healthy weight, especially if they have been told that they have pre-diabetes.
At least 2 million Australians have pre-diabetes, also known as impaired fasting glucose or impaired glucose tolerance. This condition is the ‘grey area’ in which blood glucose levels exceed the norm yet not enough to be classified as type 2 diabetes. Displaying no specific symptoms, many remain undiagnosed. Without lifestyle changes, approximately one in three people with pre-diabetes will develop type 2 diabetes within 5–10 years.
There are various prevention programs up and running such as the Life! program in Victoria, the BEAT IT program in NSW or the My Healthy Balance program in WA. Call the Diabetes Helpline on 1300 136 588 for more information.
Help for people with diabetes
To minimise complications, it is vital that people with diabetes follow the advice of their healthcare team and have regular health checks. The National Diabetes Services Scheme supports people with diabetes by giving them access to reliable and affordable services and products. Local state organisations like Diabetes Victoria provide a wide range of benefits, education programs, and vital services like support groups and supermarket tours to identify healthy options when shopping.
The Diabetes Helpline 1300 136 588 is the number to call to help navigate the diabetes world. Also visit our website at diabetesvic.org.au to access much more information.