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What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a common condition in which the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood is too high. This can happen when the body does not produce enough insulin or the insulin it produces is not working effectively. Insulin is the hormone needed to convert sugar ('blood glucose') to energy and controls blood glucose levels. There are two types of diabetes.

Type I diabetes

Type I diabetes occurs when the pancreas stops producing insulin altogether. It usually occurs in younger people but can occur at any age. It is treated with a healthy diet and regular insulin injections.

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. It occurs when the body is producing some insulin but either this is not enough for its needs or the insulin is not working effectively. This type of diabetes tends to run in families. It often occurs in older people or people who are overweight. It is treated with a healthy diet although in some instances this may be used in conjunction with either tablets or insulin injections.

What are the effects of diabetes?

There is no cure for diabetes but there are effective treatments. Early diagnosis and treatment is important to relieve symptoms and reduce the chances of developing more serious health problems. Diabetes can seriously affect your heart, eyes, kidneys, nerves and feet. Heart disease causes 80% of all deaths in diabetics, mainly due to heart attacks and because almost 50% of diabetics have high cholesterol levels. However, with the correct treatment you have less risk of developing these problems. Keeping blood glucose levels as near to normal as possible and tightly controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels help keep you healthy in the long term.

How can I tell if I have diabetes?

The symptoms of diabetes are a result of blood glucose levels being too high. Type I diabetes develops at a faster rate than Type 2 diabetes and the symptoms are usually more obvious. Some people may not realise that they have any 'diabetic symptoms'.

Symptoms of diabetes

  • Increased thirst
  • Passing more urine, particularly at night
  • Weight loss
  • Tiredness
  • Blurred vision
  • Recurrent infections

What can I do to stay fit and healthy?

Being overweight, inactive and smoking will increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. It is important to maintain a healthy weight, follow an active lifestyle and eat a healthy diet to reduce your risk.

Everyone with diabetes should follow a healthy diet and lead a healthy lifestyle. If you take medication or insulin injections, there should be a balance between your diet and your medication. Your healthcare professional team can give you specific advice and support on managing your condition. You should also have regular medical check-ups to identify any signs of diabetes-related problems so the necessary treatment can be provided.

Read the helpful tips that will show you how to become more active and eat more healthily. Remember - don't try to change everything at once, as a few small initial changes will make a big difference!

Helpful tips

  • Lose weight if you are overweight. Losing weight lowers blood glucose levels, blood pressure and cholesterol.
  • Know (and manage) your cholesterol level. A healthy cholesterol level is less than 5 mmol/l
  • Stop smoking. Smoking is particularly bad for people with diabetes as it can increase the risk of heart disease and other blood vessel related problems.
  • Eat healthily - control not only your sugar intake but also your total fat intake.
    • Try to minimise your sugar intake. You do not need to avoid sugar altogether but should have only small amounts, as part of a balance diet.
    • Eat regular meals based on starchy foods like pasta, grains, bread, rice, potatoes and cereals.
    • Eat plenty of fruit, vegetables and pulses (butter beans, red kidney beans and lentils).
    • Try to cut back on saturated (e.g. animal) fat. Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy foods, lean meat and soft (vegetable-based) spreads and oils.
    • Eat less salt.
    • Try to minimise your alcohol intake.
  • Diabetics are encouraged to see a dietician who will work out an eating plan suited to their specific needs and treatment plan.

Source: Flora Institute

  Article Date: 7 March 2005


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