November around the world is Diabetes Awareness Month. Diabetes is the second leading cause of death in Belize behind heart disease and ahead of violence. In Belize, 14% of the population or over 44,000 people have been diagnosed with and live with diabetes. The number of Belizeans with diabetes continues to grow especially in the 40-59 age range. Knowing your risk for diabetes and managing your diabetes if you have it can help you live a longer more fulfilling life – ignoring diabetes could kill you at an earlier age. There are three main types of diabetes: 1) Type 1 which develops at childhood, 2) Type 2 which happened more in adulthood, 3) Gestational which happens during pregnancy.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition that occurs when the body attacks the pancreas with antibodies where it is damaged and cannot make insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps the body use glucose and fat from the foods we eat. Treatment includes injecting insulin into the fatty tissue just under skin and must be monitored daily to keep the blood sugar in acceptable ranges. A test called the HbA1c test helps health care providers know if the blood glucose levels have been in acceptable ranges for the past three months.
Most people who live with diabetes have what is called Type 2. This happens during adulthood where the pancreas does not produce enough of the hormone insulin to help the body use glucose or fat from the foods that we eat. Some of the signs and symptoms of diabetes include feeling hunger and fatigue more often, urinating and being thirstier more often, having dry mouth and itchy skin, blurred vision, slow healing sores or cuts, and pain or numbness in your feet or legs.
Risk factors and characteristics that can lead to the development of diabetes include being overweight or obese, have impaired glucose tolerance, being insulin resistance, have a sedentary lifestyle, and an age (45 years and overweight). Gestational diabetes (diabetes when pregnant) and polycystic ovary syndrome are additional risks for women. Many of these risk factors develop over time.
It is reported that about 25% of people who went to the hospital with COVID-19 had diabetes and were more likely to have serious complications and die more often from the virus. If you also have heart disease, lung disease, and other chronic conditions, your likelihood of severe infection from COVID-19 is much higher.
Not preventing and/or managing your diabetes wrecks the body’s systems in many ways. You could be more susceptible to develop heart disease, the number one killer in Belize, and stroke, the number three killer in Belize. Other systems which can be damaged include the kidneys, eyes, and nerves in the lower body and the stomach. In males, diabetes can increase your chances of getting erectile dysfunction or become impotent. You can also get skin issues, more infections, and an increased risk of dental problems. The best route is to prevent diabetes and if you have it, you must spend time managing it with the help of your healthcare providers and with family support. The Ministry of Health in Belize has a brochure to help you understand more about your risks and local resources.
WHAT CAN YOU DO
It is suggested that 50% of people with diabetes are un-diagnosed across the globe. It is important for you to take steps to knowing if you might be at risk, have pre-diabetes or diabetes by considering the following actions:
- Know your risks of diabetes, have regular check-ups with your healthcare provider, and ask questions about risks and any other conditions.
- Learn how to maintain healthy lifestyle factors and educate yourself of obesity and pre-diabetes prevention.
- Practice healthy lifestyle practices such as consistent physical activity, 150 minutes a week, and eat healthy foods while moderating your total calorie intake.
- If you have pre-diabetes or diabetes, educate yourself and participate in ongoing diabetes self-management or support groups for these conditions.
- Work with your healthcare provider to understand and Individualize your blood glucose management to help you keep your blood glucose and insulin at safe levels.
- Stay focused on lifestyle factors including those related to other heart disease risk factors such as blood pressure and cholesterol control.
- Understand the complications of diabetes and stay vigilant with how your body feels.