Raising Diabetes Awareness

Diabetes: a term we are all familiar with. What more do we need to be aware of in diabetes awareness week?

The chances are you already know someone with the condition. There are 4.9 million people in the UK that have diabetes. A number that has doubled over the last fifteen years. This week lets talk about the complications of diabetes, something not always talked about. But first lets recap the basics.

There are two types of diabetes.

Type one is an autoimmune disorder where the body attacks the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Type one is due to genetic and environmental factors and is most commonly diagnosed in childhood.

Type two diabetes is due to a combination of beta cells in the pancreas becoming unable to produce insulin and the insulin receptive cells in the body no longer being sensitive to it. Type two diabetes has some genetic factors, but its main risk factors are inactivity, poor diet, obesity, and age. Insulin is an important hormone part of the feedback loop that keeps the blood glucose levels balanced. Insulin signals to cells to take in glucose out of the bloodstream and use it or build glycogen out of it. Now we know the basic mechanism of diabetes lets look at its associated problems.

Heart Disease and Stroke with Diabetes

High levels of glucose in the blood damage the blood vessels. this happens because with high levels of glucose, methylglyoxal is formed and it binds to proteins in the walls of the blood vessels causing the proteins to become misshaped. This in turn causes an immune-inflammatory response which can in some cases form a blood clot which can block the blood vessel leading to a stroke or heart attack. Type two diabetes goes hand in hand with high cholesterol, leading to atherosclerosis, where plaque gets deposited in the blood vessels narrowing them. a clot could either form on the surface of the plaque or a piece of the plaque could break off blocking the blood vessel, leading to a stroke or heart attack.

Nerve Damage in Diabetes

Although we often think of nerves as the body’s electrical wires, they are living cells and so require a blood supply. Overtime damage to the tiny blood vessels supplying the nerves happens because of high glucose levels. This cuts the nerve fibres off from oxygen and they die. Nerve damaged is classified by where it takes place. The most common type of diabetes is peripheral nerve damage. This damages the nerves in the hands or more often the feet, manifesting as tingling or numbness, inability to feel pain or temperature, and shooting pains. Around half of people with diabetes have peripheral nerve damage. Nerve damage to the autonomic nervous system can lead to excessive sweating, problems swallowing, irregular heartbeat and loss of control of the bladder. There can also be motor nerve damage leading to muscle weakness, muscle wasting, cramps, and twitching.

A combination of nerve damage and damage to the blood vessels from diabetes is a contributing factor to other complications of diabetes such as kidney disease, gum and dental problems, foot problems, bladder problems, sexual disfunction and eye problems.

Diabetes, in both forms, is now managed very effectively - and can be helped by a good diet, even sometimes reversed.

More information about Diabetes Awareness Week can be found at Diabetes UK