Understanding the dangers of diabetes

In Rwanda, its prevalence is 3.16 percent of the population with 1,918 diabetes-related deaths per year, according to Diabetes Atlas.
With early detection and awareness, you can take steps to prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes.  /Net photos
With early detection and awareness, you can take steps to prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes. /Net photos

Early in life, Manzi, now 22, was a healthy and happy kid, and then at the age of 10, things changed.

He started to lose weight and felt the urge to ease himself a little more frequently than normal. His teachers once disciplined him for “excusing himself in the middle of an ongoing lesson just to use the bathrooms”, Manzi recalls.

Manzi’s parents eventually took him to the hospital, and to their dismay, found out that he had type 1 diabetes.

Diabetes is a global concern, cementing its spot on the deadliest diseases list. And November 14 every year, World Diabetes Day, the primary global awareness campaign focusing on diabetes mellitus, is marked. The day itself marks the birthday of Frederick Banting who, along with Charles Best and John James Rickard Macleod, first conceived the idea which led to the discovery of insulin in 1922. This year’s theme is ‘Diabetes and Family’.

The day was launched by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in response to the rapid rise of diabetes around the world.

In line with the theme, IDF urges families to learn more about diabetes, its warning signs, and risks.

In Rwanda, its prevalence is 3.16 percent of the population with 1,918 diabetes-related deaths per year, according to Diabetes Atlas.

Diabetes has two types: type one resulting from pancreas’ failure to produce insulin, a hormone that helps sugar (glucose) get into your cells to give them energy. This is common in children, and Manzi suffers from this type. And then type two, the more common type, where the body does not make or use insulin well.

TYPE 1 DIABETES

Type 1 symptoms include frequent urination, extreme thirst, drowsiness, sudden weight loss, sudden vision changes, heavy or laboured breathing, sugar in the urine and occasional unconsciousness. This type can affect anyone at any age. People with type 1 diabetes continuously and carefully balance insulin intake with eating, exercise and other activities. They also measure blood-sugar levels through finger pricks, ideally at least six times a day, or by wearing a continuous glucose monitor.

Even with a strict regimen, people with type 1 diabetes may still experience dangerously high or low blood glucose levels that can, in extreme cases, be life-threatening.

“Sometimes when my blood glucose levels are low I feel it, by becoming dizzy. I then reach out for some sugar and everything goes back to normal after I lick it,” Manzi says.

TYPE 2 DIABETES

Type 2 diabetes has no cure or cause although there are some factors that could lead to it.

“It has no known single cause, although evidence points to a combination of both genetic and environmental factors. Many people with type 2 diabetes have a family member with either type 2 diabetes or other medical problems associated with diabetes, such as high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, or obesity,” wrote Dr Ian Shyaka, Resident in Plastic Surgery, Rwanda Military Hospital, in his article about type 2 diabetes.

He added: “The lifetime risk of developing type 2 diabetes is 5 to 10 times higher in first-degree relatives (sister, brother, son, daughter) of a person with diabetes compared to a person with no family history of diabetes. Environmental factors such as what you eat and how active you are, combined with genetic causes, affect the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

“Being overweight or obese, especially if you carry your extra weight in your belly (as opposed to in your hips, thighs, and butt), not doing enough physical activity (sedentary lifestyle and smoking are associated with a higher risk of developing diabetes type 2.”

This type of diabetes used to be known as adult-onset diabetes but nowadays, children are also diagnosed with the disease due to child obesity. Gestational diabetes-type 2 diabetes-like, that 3 to 5 per cent of pregnant women develop but resolves after giving birth-is also among the causes.

“Women who have gestational diabetes are at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life,” said Dr Shyaka.

Its symptoms include increased thirst, frequent urination, increased hunger, unintended weight loss, fatigue, blurred vision, slow healing sores, frequent infections, areas of darkened skin, usually in the armpits and neck.

Even though there is no cure, losing weight, eating well and exercising can help manage the disease. If diet and exercise aren't enough to manage your blood sugar well, you may also need diabetes medications or insulin therapy.

One can stay ahead and even prevent diabetes or the likelihood of it happening in the following ways:

By eating healthy, avoiding sedentary behaviours like sitting down, avoid or quit smoking, lose weight if you’re overweight, drink water, and workout regularly.

In addition, if you’re in Rwanda, you could always participate in the car-free day activities and get your blood levels checked for free.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com