Taking control of diabetes

Dr Lau Pik Onn / 14 Nov, 2019

What is diabetes?What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition where there is too much sugar in the blood. Every day, the food we eat is broken down into glucose. In a normal person, insulin (manufactured by an organ called the pancreas) acts on cells throughout the body to stimulate uptake, utilisation and storage of glucose. People who are diabetic do not produce enough insulin (type 1 diabetes) or the insulin produced does not work well (type 2 diabetes). As a result, sugar builds up in the blood causing diabetes.

In Singapore, statistics show that about one in every 10 Singaporeans have diabetes which has almost doubled among those 50 years and above. It is a serious chronic medical condition and is a growing concern in Singapore.

Screening and diagnosisScreening and diagnosis

Diabetes is diagnosed through a blood test. If you have symptoms, it may be possible to diagnose diabetes through a type of blood test known as a fasting blood glucose test. However, if your blood sugar is not very high, you may require separate blood tests on different days or an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT).

Who is at risk?Who is at risk?

Risk factors for diabetes include:

  • Family history of diabetes
  • Being overweight (BMI of 25 or higher)
  • Inactive or sedentary lifestyle
  • High blood pressure
  • Raised cholesterol levels
  • Above the age of 40
  • Past history of diabetes during pregnancy
  • Impaired glucose tolerance or impaired fasting blood glucose (pre-diabetes state)

What are the signs and symptoms of diabetes?Signs and symptoms of diabetes

  • Frequent thirst despite drinking lots of water
  • Constant hunger
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Passing excessive urine during the day and night
  • Weight loss despite good appetite
  • Itchy skin especially around the genital area
  • Poor healing of cuts and wounds

What are the complications of diabetes?Complications of diabetes

Diabetes is a serious chronic medical condition and can affect almost every part of the body. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to high blood glucose (hyperglycemia) and low blood glucose (hypoglycemia), which can lead to severe complications.

Long term complications of diabetes include:

  • Stroke
  • Coronary heart disease such as heart attack
  • Eye complications such as blindness or impaired vision
  • Kidney disease
  • Foot disease such as numbness, ulcers and gangrene
  • Nerve disease leading to problems of impotence

Managing diabetesManaging diabetes

Although there is presently no known cure for diabetes, it can be controlled and complications can be prevented. We also know that the risk of developing diabetes can be reduced by leading an active and healthy lifestyle.

Treatment for diabetes includes diet modification, lifestyle changes, oral medication and insulin injections.

Have a well-balanced diet

  • Use the healthy diet pyramid to ensure a well-balanced diet. It’s important to consume a variety of foods from all food groups within the recommended servings
  • Eat more whole grains and vegetables
  • Eat more food rich in proteins but low in fats and cholesterol like lean meat , fish, legumes and nuts
  • Reduce food high in oil, sugar and salt
  • Consult your doctor or dietitian who can support you in managing your diet and nutritional needs

Regular exercise

  • Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight
  • You should aim for 150 minutes of physical activity a week. Exercise helps to prevent onset of complications, controls your weight and keeps the heart healthy.

Quit or reduce smoking

  • It’s important to quit smoking if you are currently a smoker, as it can increase the risk of heart disease by reducing blood flow to many organs, especially in diabetic people. Speak to your doctor to help you quit smoking.
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