Someone is diagnosed with diabetes mellitus every five minutes or so around the country and it has been described as the biggest challenge to Australia’s health system. Already, 1.2 million Australians have been diagnosed[i], yet a massive half a million people are thought to have diabetes without knowing it yet. Are you that one in half a million?
Of those who have diabetes, around 10 per cent have type 1 diabetes (where no insulin is produced) while around 85 per cent have type 2 diabetes[ii] (where insulin is produced but isn’t used by the body). The other five per cent are women who have diabetes triggered by pregnancy.
Type 2 diabetes is strongly linked with being overweight – especially carrying too much weight around the middle, and with being inactive. Having a family history of type 2 diabetes also increases your risk.
The signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes aren’t always as obvious. It’s often diagnosed during a routine check-up at the GP. And, although the symptoms are often mild and develop gradually over a number of years, there are a few tell-tale signs. If you have any of these symptoms – or you know someone who does – go and get checked out by your GP.
- Hunger and fatigue. Your body and brain cells rely on a tiny sugar called glucose to provide the fuel they need to function properly. Your body tries to regulate your blood glucose level and keep it within very narrow limits. To physically enter the cells and provide nourishment, your body needs the hormone insulin. Insulin ‘holds hands’ with glucose to get it into where it needs to be. If your body becomes resistant to insulin, which can happen when there is too much fat in your cells (this distorts the shape of the membranes making it difficult for insulin to enter them) and the hormone can’t do its job, your cells become deprived of nourishment. The result? Hunger and tiredness.
- Thirst and frequent trips to the loo. Your body likes to hang on to the nutrients it receives and so it will reabsorb glucose. But when there’s too much glucose circulating around your blood (if insulin is absent or not working properly, for example), your body can’t reabsorb all of it. To get rid of the extra glucose, your body makes more urine. But for this to happen, it needs more fluid hence an increase in thirst. Drinking more means you need to urinate more, too. The glucose spills out in urine (diabetes means siphon – to pass through and the Latin word mellitus means honeyed or sweet!)
- Dry mouth and itchy skin. Because your body concentrates on trying to get rid of the excess glucose in your body through urine, there’s less fluid to go around for the rest of your body. The result can be a dry mouth and/or a strange, lingering taste. This can be due to less saliva production (saliva is your mouth’s natural cleansing system). Dry mouth can make dental problems worse so as well as seeing your GP, keeping up with visits to your dentist is vital, too. Also, because your kidneys are using so much fluid to get rid of excess glucose, there may be less fluid around to reach your skin. Dry, annoyingly itchy skin can result.
- Blurred vision. As your body battles with fluid and glucose, the fluid in your eyes can be affected. Dryness can mean that the lenses in your eyes alter in shape making focussing more difficult and leading to blurred vision.
- Infections. Millions of microorganisms live in harmony in and on your skin and that includes yeast organisms. But, if circumstances are right, yeast infections like candida and athlete’s foot can flourish and grow out of control since they love glucose and moist, warm conditions. That’s why recurrent yeast infections may be a sign of diabetes.
- Slow healing of cuts and wounds. Blood carries the nutrients and infection fighters needed to promote wound healing. But, fluctuations in blood flow caused by fluid levels can slow down wound healing. On top of this, high levels of blood glucose can affect the nerves leading to poor blood circulation. All of this makes it harder for blood to reach the wound or cut, which slows down wound healing.
Diagnosing and treating type 2 diabetes is very important. Your GP can give you a quick check-up and test for diabetes. And, treatment can help you stay well and help you avoid nerve damage, heart trouble, and other complications later on.
This health message is brought to you by the health and wellbeing team at rt health fund, Australia’s only dedicated, not-for-profit health fund for people who work in the transport and energy industries.
[i] Diabetes Australia. About Diabetes. https://www.diabetesaustralia.com.au/about-diabetes
[ii] Diabetes Australia. What is diabetes? https://www.diabetesaustralia.com.au/what-is-diabetes