What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic disease. Diabetes mellitus is a condition in which the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood is too high because the body cannot use it properly. Glucose comes from the digestion of starchy foods such as bread, rice, potatoes, chapatis, yams and plantain, from sugar and other sweet foods, and from the liver which makes glucose.

In the child with type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes, the pancreas does not produce insulin, a hormone necessary to sustain life. Without insulin the sugar in the blood can’t be used. It builds up in the bloodstream even while the body is starved for energy. A person with type 1 diabetes must take one or more injections of insulin daily to stay alive.

Diabetes can lead to related complications such as heart disease, blindness and amputations. Reduce your risk of complications by becoming informed and taking charge of your own health.

What are the causes of Diabetes?

Some of the causes of Diabetes include:

  • Infection with a specific virus or bacteria;
  • Exposure to food-borne chemical toxins; and
  • Exposure as a very young infant to cow’s milk, where an as yet unidentified component of this triggers the autoimmune reaction in the body.

However, these are only hypotheses and are by no means proven causes.

Rarer causes of diabetes include:

  • Certain medicines;
  • Pregnancy (gestational diabetes); and
  • Any illness or disease that damages the pancreas and affects its ability to produce insulin e.g. pancreatitis.

What are the symptoms of Diabetes?

The classic symptoms of diabetes are:

  • Frequent urination, with large volumes of urine (polyuria),
  • Excessive thirst (polydipsia),
  • Hunger (polyphagia), and
  • Weight loss.

Other symptoms might include:

  • Fatigue,
  • Blurry vision,
  • Odd aches and pains,
  • Dry mouth,
  • Dry or itchy skin,
  • Impotence (in a male),
  • Vaginal yeast infections (in a female),
  • Poor healing of cuts and scrapes,
  • Excessive or unusual infections,or
  • Extreame tiredness.

What treatment can be done for Diabetes?

Most sight-threatening problems caused by diabetic retinopathy can be managed by laser treatment if it is given early enough. It is important to realise, however, that laser treatment can only preserve the sight you have – not make it better. The laser, a beam of high intensity light, can be focused with extreme precision so that the blood vessels that are leaking fluid into the retina can be sealed.

If new blood vessels are growing, more extensive laser treatment has to be carried out.

Treatment is normally carried out in an outpatient clinic and you usually do not have to stay in hospital. Eye drops are used to enlarge the pupils so that the eye specialist can look into your eye. The eye is then numbed with drops and a small contact lens is put onto your eye to stop it blinking. During the treatment you will be asked to move your eyes in certain directions but this can easily be done with the contact lens in place.