Could you have diabetes and not know it?

Here’s what doctors want you to know and how you can lower your risk from developing the disease

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Here’s what doctors want you to know and how you can lower your risk from developing the disease 
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We won’t sugarcoat it for you: Singapore has the second- highest proportion of diabetics among developed nations. Figures from the latest national Health Survey in 2010 reveal that one in nine Singaporeans aged between 18 and 69 years old is affected by the condition. of these, one in three is unaware that he or she has diabetes. Based on an estimate from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, the number of diabetics could rise to almost one million by 2050 if nothing is done to curb its onslaught. The good news is that diabetes can be prevented. With the help of experts, we outline the key facts you need to know about the disease, including lowering your risk factor and how to spot the hidden symptoms. 

What is Diabetes? 

Diabetes occurs when the body’s blood sugar levels stay above normal on a consistent basis. In layman’s terms, that means that diabetes makes it difficult for the body to turn food into energy. When the condition is not well-controlled, it can cause debilitating complications such as heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, blindness and lower limb amputations.

Dr Daniel Wai, a Consultant endocrinologist at mount elizabeth medical Centre, says, “older Singaporeans have the highest proportion of diabetics at 29.1 percent, but I see too many young people who have it as well. In fact, almost 4.3 percent of those who are aged 30 to 39 have diabetes.” 

Type 1 Diabetes 

There are two types of diabetes. Type 1 is genetic and unpreventable. It occurs because the pancreas naturally does not produce enough insulin, a hormone that controls blood glucose levels. Dr Wai explains, “It’s an autoimmune condition. The body’s own white blood cells mistake pancreatic cells and label them as the enemy. They then attack and destroy the cells, which are responsible for making insulin.” 

About five percent of all diabetics in Singapore have Type 1 diabetes but it mostly occurs in children, teenagers and young adults. “These patients have to inject insulin for the rest of their lives as their bodies cannot produce it naturally,” says Dr Wai.

The exact cause of Type 1 diabetes is not known, but genetics, environmental influences and other factors, or a combination of factors, may play a role in the development of the disease. 

Type 2 Diabetes  

Type 2 is the most common form of diabetes and is related to weight management. Risk factors associated with this form of the disease include unhealthy weight range, age, family history, lack of exercise and a history of gestational diabetes. over 90 percent of diabetics suffer from Type 2 diabetes, with obese people being the group that is most at risk of developing the disease. 

Dr Wai says, “When we consume too much carbohydrates and do not move or exercise enough, our bodies become overweight and insulin-resistant. But because Type 2 diabetes is a lifestyle disease, it can be controlled by switching to a healthy diet, exercise and oral medication or insulin.” 

Type 2 diabetes can affect people of all ages but is most frequently developed in adulthood. So much so that it used to be known as adult- onset diabetes. 

Pregnancy & Diabetes

Gestational diabetes develops when a woman is pregnant and is usually diagnosed later in the pregnancy around the second trimester. This type of diabetes usually disappears after the baby is born. Dr Wai warns, “During pregnancy, the hormones produced by the body induces blood sugar to go up. When left untreated, high sugar levels can cause the baby to grow too big leading to delivery problems, or even stillbirth.” 

What’s worse is that babies born from mothers with gestational diabetes are also at high risk of low blood sugar, breathing difficulties or jaundice after they are born. Dr Wai adds that if this occurs, “tight control of the condition through a healthy diet, regular exercise, and insulin if necessary, can prevent complications”. He advises expecting mums to work closely with their doctors in order to manage their blood sugar levels.