In our private doctors clinics, we see many patients who have been diagnosed with diabetes. It is also something that our doctors often recommend at-risk patients are screened for. Why? Because it’s thought that many people may be on the cusp of becoming ‘diabetic’ without even realising – and the sooner it is identified, the sooner you can make the necessary lifestyle changes to prevent the development of the condition!
Diabetes is a long term condition which affects the body’s ability to control blood sugar levels. With the right management, it can be well controlled to prevent any further complication. However, without treatment, poorly controlled diabetes can lead to high blood sugar levels and an increased risk of health complications, such as diabetic eye disease or diabetic foot problems.
Diabetes: Types 1 and 2
Diabetes is categorised into two main types:
- Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition in which the body’s immune system destroys the cells that produce insulin, the hormone responsible for lowering blood sugar.
- Type 2 diabetes is a condition in which not enough insulin is produced for the body and cells become resistant to the effects of insulin. Type 2 diabetes is much more common than type 1 and in the UK 90% of diabetics have type 2.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is associated with:
- Increasing age
- African, Caribbean and South Asian ethnicity
- Having diabetes in the family (parent, brother or sister with diabetes)
These are risk factors which unfortunately can’t be controlled.
On the other hand, there are several risk factors which are possible to control, including:
Type 2 diabetes is associated with being overweight
However, we know how hard it is to lose weight. For advice and support, you can contact your GP or try the NHS 12 week weight loss plan. Losing weight or decreasing your waist size will lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes as well as many other health conditions.
Type 2 Diabetes Symptoms
Symptoms of diabetes are caused by high blood sugar levels. These include:
- Feeling thirsty all the time
- Passing urine more frequently – you may notice you are waking up at night to go to the toilet
- Feeling tired
- Losing muscle weight
- Changes in your vision
- Pins and needles or a burning sensation in your hands or feet
If you think you may have diabetes, you should contact your GP as soon as possible. The earlier you are diagnosed the better, as early treatment is important to avoid complications of diabetes.
If you have been experiencing symptoms of diabetes or are at high risk of diabetes, your GP will ask for a urine test and blood test to check blood sugar levels. Simple blood glucose tests (a ‘Random Blood Glucose’) can be performed immediately in-house, as each of our London clinics is equipped with a glucose-meter.
Your GP may also ask you to do a glucose tolerance test. This is to see how well your body can manage sugar. A blood sample will be taken before the test to measure blood sugar and then you’ll be given a sugary drink. The blood test will then be repeated two hours after the drink. If the test results are borderline, this may indicate ‘pre-diabetes’, meaning that the risk of developing full blown diabetes is high.
Your GP may advise lifestyle changes including healthy eating, exercise and weight loss. He or she may even recommend starting medications to control blood sugar levels.
If the tests indicate diabetes, you GP will most likely prescribe medications to control your blood sugar levels.
The aim of treating diabetes is to control blood sugar levels to avoid acute and long term complications of the condition.
Lifestyle changes are important to control blood sugar levels and to stop your diabetes getting worse. These includes:
- Eating healthily
- Doing exercise
- Losing weight.
The healthcare team treating you will give you more information and advice on how to manage your diet and exercise.
Many different drugs exist to treat diabetes type 2. Usually the first medicine used is called Metformin. Metformin makes your cells more responsive to insulin and decreases the amount of glucose the liver makes.
Over time, your diabetes may progress and your doctors may want to increase the doses or add on other medications to control your blood sugar. Sometimes insulin treatment may be recommended. This will have to be injected with a needle or special insulin pen. Your healthcare team will teach you how to use these properly.
Lifestyle changes, including doing more exercise, are important for managing type 2 diabetes
Long term high blood sugar levels can cause damage to different parts of the body including blood vessels, nerves and organs.
Blood Vessel Damage
Diabetes is associated with atherosclerosis – the narrowing of the blood vessels caused by a build-up of fatty substances. This increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. The healthcare team treating you may therefore recommend medications like statins for cholesterol or high blood pressure tablets, to reduce the risk of such complications.
Diabetes can also lead to nerve damage, or peripheral neuropathy. Symptoms include tingling, numbness or a burning pain in the hands and feet. Numbness in the feet can be dangerous, as you will not feel pain from a wound. The wound may also be difficult to see. Wounds can then come infected, and potentially life threatening.
The nerves in your digestive system can also be affected causing tummy pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea or constipation.
Diabetes can cause eye problems by damaging the blood vessels in the retina. You will have annual eye checks to monitor any eye diseases.
Diabetes can also lead to kidney disease, which may also require treatment.
Men can experience erectile dysfunction due to blood vessel disease. This can be treated with medication.
Living With Diabetes
Living with diabetes can be very stressful for you and your loved ones, so it is important to look after your physical and mental wellbeing. Your diabetes healthcare team will support you as best they can throughout your treatment.
Overall, despite all this serious medical talk it’s important to note that a diagnosis of diabetes or even pre-diabetes isn’t all doom and gloom! Good monitoring and management of the condition can slow (or even halt!) the progression of the disease, and reduce your risk of developing any of the above-mentioned complications. A few simple lifestyle changes can make the world of difference! Our experienced GP’s here at London Doctors Clinic can guide you every step of the way through this sometimes-confusing world of diabetes management. Simply book into any of our nine GP surgeries today.
By Anna Kessler