Increasing need to keep our blood sugars in check

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are on the rise, but what exactly is diabetes and can we prevent it?

Blood sugar reading: Checking blood sugars: people with diabetes lack the insulin required to break down sugars to allow them to power muscles and other cells in the body. This lack of insulin means that people with diabetes have a build-up of sugar in the blood or high blood sugar levels. Photograph: Getty Images

Blood sugar reading: Checking blood sugars: people with diabetes lack the insulin required to break down sugars to allow them to power muscles and other cells in the body. This lack of insulin means that people with diabetes have a build-up of sugar in the blood or high blood sugar levels. Photograph: Getty Images

Tue, Oct 22, 2013, 01:00

A 2010 report entitled Making Chronic Conditions Count by the Institute of Public Health estimates that by 2020 the number of adults with diabetes in Ireland (type 1 and type 2 combined) is expected to rise to more than 233,000. This represents a 62 per cent increase or an additional 89,000 adults on the 2007 figure.

According to Diabetes Ireland, it is estimated that there are 3,000-4,000 children, adolescents and young adults living with diabetes in Ireland, virtually all of whom have type 1 diabetes.

In the absence of a national diabetes register however, these figures are more than likely to be an under-estimation of the true number of children and adults with diabetes in Ireland.

But what exactly is diabetes and why is it causing such concern?

Dr Anna Clarke, health, promotion and research manager with Diabetes Ireland, explains that diabetes is an inability to use the sugar that we consume in foods properly in the body because of an absolute or relative lack of insulin.

“Every food that you take in has sugar in it. In order to get that sugar from your blood stream into cells where it is needed for heat and energy, you need an adequate amount of insulin,” Clarke explains.


Breaking down sugars
Therefore, people with diabetes lack the insulin required to break down sugars to allow them to power muscles and other cells in the body. This lack of insulin means that people with diabetes have a build-up of sugar in the blood or high blood sugar levels.

This build-up of sugar over a long period of time can damage blood vessel walls causing a range of complications of diabetes which can affect the eyes, kidneys, heart and lower limbs.

People with diabetes are much more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke. Also, as high blood sugar causes damage to the nerves and the blood vessels, particularly in the feet, people with diabetes can develop diabetic foot ulcers which, in extreme cases, can lead to gangrene and amputation.

There are two types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Clarke explains that type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition that occurs in younger people where they produce little or no insulin. Type 2 diabetes is where a person doesn’t produce enough insulin to meet their needs because the demands on their body are greater.

According to Diabetes Ireland, the main risk factors for type 1 diabetes include having another autoimmune condition, a parent or sibling with type 1 diabetes combined with environmental factors and a common infection which may trigger onset.

The risk factors for type 2 diabetes include excess weight particularly around the waist, age, family history of the disease and inactivity.

On the increase
Clarke explains that the prevalence of both types of diabetes is on the increase. While she says that the incidence of type 1 diabetes is increasing, specifically in children under the age of five, the reasons behind this are unclear.

However, the reasons for the rise in type 2 diabetes include our ageing population and the rise in obesity levels.

“The two of those are fuelling the epidemic. We would say that the rise in obesity levels is fuelling it more than the ageing population.

“So everyone needs to be aware that they should be eating a healthy diet to get to a weight appropriate to their height and staying as active as they can,” she says.

Diabetes Ireland has recently opened a new purpose-built diabetes Care Centre in Santry, Dublin where a team of practitioners have expertise in meeting the needs of people with diabetes.

For more information please see diabetes.ie or lo call tel 1850 909 909.

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