Diabetes: A beautifully condensed cocktail on prevention and control
It’s two-thirty pm on a Tuesday. You’ve been in the clinic since 7 a.m., waiting in never-ending queues to make a folder, check your vitals and finally see a doctor. You almost gave up hope twice but it’s finally your turn. You push your way into the consulting room, squeezing past a harassed-looking nurse and pour yourself into a chair across from an even more harassed-looking doctor.
You’ve already seen her once this morning when you stated your problems as best as you could, telling her about the burning pain you get when you urinate and about how you’re looking for a bathroom every hour, and you’re back with yet another set of lab results. At this point, you know what’s coming, another urinary tract infection, the third one this year.
You’re about to complain when the doctor tells you she knows what the problem is: You have diabetes. Within three minutes she’s given you a quick overview of the disease, and that you need to take some medication. She hurriedly writes a prescription and tells you to come back in two weeks. You sigh and make your way to the crowded pharmacy, still not really clear on what’s going on.
I can fully guarantee that if this was me I’d never go back to that hospital, especially when I feel perfectly fine, but for people living with diabetes, proper management of the condition is not only important but truly a life or death matter.
Poorly controlled diabetes can lead to widespread infections like boils, urinary tract infections and foot infections, which can be severe enough to lead to amputations or worse. Organ damage can also lead to heart attacks, strokes, blindness and kidney failure, and nerve damage that leads to reduced or even increased sensitivity to heat and pain.
You might think not feeling pain is a good thing, but that’s until your wife tells you there’s a nail sticking out of your foot that you haven’t noticed. The disease process of diabetes affects all vital organs significantly and can lead to devastating results.
What to do?
This sounds pretty scary, but if I’ve learnt anything it’s that you can’t scare people into caring about their health. So let me say this: Diabetes is not certain death or despair.
With careful, close and collaborative management a person living with diabetes can have a full, healthy life. But it does take lots of work, and an understanding that you’re not simply being passively treated by a doctor, but that you’re working together with health workers (and family) to achieve results you’re all happy with. It is important that diabetics attend reviews, take their medication as directed and follow doctors’ advice (Doctors, not pastors, friends or self-styled healers with mysterious herbal concoctions).
A proper diet, which is low in salt, sugary snacks and processed foods, and high in fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains can do wonders to reduce blood sugar levels and improve outcomes. Moderate exercise of at least thirty minutes three times a week is also essential. Mild diabetes may even be controlled with a healthy diet, moderate exercise and weight loss, without medications. These lifestyle changes aren’t just helpful, but necessary. And they are just as necessary for all of us because there are no better ways to prevent diabetes, especially if you have risk factors for diabetes like a family history, and conditions like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.
Diabetes remains an incurable disease, and radical new treatments are experimental, extremely expensive and mostly directed at treating type one diabetes.
This means we (including me) all need to take our health more seriously.
Now, who’s up for a jog?