Almost a quarter of a million people in Ireland are living with diabetes. Between 10 and 15 per cent of those have type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune condition and usually diagnosed in early childhood.
The rest have type 2. This strand is often brought about by lifestyle choices and recent figures show that an alarming number (more than 850,000) are at risk of developing the life-changing disorder, due to an increasing percentage who are in danger of becoming overweight or obese.
Patrick Marshall was diagnosed in 2014 with type 2 diabetes following a routine annual blood test and the 76 year old says, although it was unexpected, it did spur him on to change his lifestyle, lose weight and improve his quality of living.
My diagnosis came about as a result of a marginally high sugar level showing up in my routine annual blood test
“I had no symptoms of diabetes and my diagnosis came about as a result of a marginally high sugar level showing up in my routine annual blood test, so it was a complete surprise,” says the Cork man.
“My GP booked me on to the HSE Expert Course for diabetics, I was put on medication and I made some significant other changes by taking regular exercise, being careful about the size of my food portions and eating seven portions of fruit and vegetables every day.
“I also have diabetic retinopathy screening annually, have my bloods tested every six months and visit a chiropodist every three months.”
Patrick, who is married to Mary and has two grown-up sons, says taking responsibility for his health has made such a difference to his future.
“My quality of life is greatly improved since I became more disciplined about what I eat and exercising regularly,” he says. “I have had a great deal of help from my wife but I know it is very important to take responsibility for managing diabetes because the consequences of allowing it to progress unchecked do not bear thinking about.”
A new study from the UK (The Direct study) has also claimed that type 2 diabetes can be "reversed" if sufferers stick to a very low calorie diet. But Pauline Dunn, dietitian with Diabetes Ireland, says this needs to be a long-term change rather than a quick fix.
“The study is at a mid-point currently and showing favourable outcomes,” she says. “Weight loss is achieved by adhering to a total diet replacement formula for three to five months, stepped food reintroduction (for two to eight weeks) and structured support for long-term weight-loss maintenance.
“So if a person is carrying excess body weight and loses it, they have a chance of putting type 2 diabetes into remission. However, to stay well, they have to live well long term hence I use the term remission rather than the word reverse.”
But while 85 per cent of those diagnosed with type 2 diabetes carry excess weight, there are a further 15 per cent who are fit and healthy but are genetically predisposed to the condition.
Wayne Davies is just 50 years old and, in 2011, he discovered that the constant tiredness he was feeling was not down to being overworked, but was instead a symptom of diabetes.
“Back in 2011, I found that I was always tired, thirsty and hungry and would fall asleep after a big meal,” says Wayne, who is married to Finola and has a 3½-year-old son called Conor. “So I went to see my GP who took a urine sample and did a finger prick blood test which came back with a reading of 14, which I now realise was very high.
“The urine test found glucose in my sample which didn’t bode well so I then gave blood for full testing and when the results came back I was prescribed [diabetes] medication to control blood sugar levels.”
The Dublin man has managed to control his blood sugar levels, but finds it disheartening that despite his healthy lifestyle, he has to deal with a condition which is not of his own making.
I find it frustrating as I am not a typical type 2 diabetic because I am not overweight or obese
“My blood sugar levels are under control but could be better so I intend to increase my exercise regime,” he says. “But I find it frustrating as I am not a typical type 2 diabetic because I am not overweight or obese and most of the advice for people with my condition is to lose weight. Since I was diagnosed I have lost two stone but I’m trying to put weight back on now as I look drawn and gaunt, so much so that my mother has spoken to me about her concerns.
“My advice to newly diagnosed diabetics would be to attend as many relevant courses as possible to ensure that they receive the right advice,” he says. “Also, it’s important to regularly test bloods – I do this myself two or three times a day to get a better understanding of what foods affect my levels. I am also a member of Diabetes Ireland and I avail of all the services that they offer.”
About type 2 diabetes
- 1,000 new people are diagnosed every month in Ireland with type 2 diabetes, based on the number of people being screened by the National Screening service for retinopathy.
- 1 in 15 people in Ireland are living with diabetes. 10 per cent of this population has type 1, an auto-immune, non-preventable condition.
- The remainder has type 2 diabetes of which 85 per cent could be put into remission if they didn't carry excess weight.
- It is unknown how many have pre-diabetes.
- Obesity and age both increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Prevention of type 1 diabetes is not possible as it is an autoimmune condition.
- Following a healthy lifestyle – eating well, keeping weight within a healthy range for height and achieving the minimum physical activity guidelines – can help reduce a person's risk of developing type 2 diabetes.