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What you need to know after a diabetes diagnosis


Life with diabetes

Some of the common questions that patients ask

BY NANCY KUNYIHA

While diabetes rates are increasing, half of those with the condition are undiagnosed. Here are some of the common questions that patients ask.

Can diabetes be cured?
If you have diabetes, you have a lifelong task of managing the condition. Type 1 diabetes and some forms of diabetes are not curable. The important thing is lifestyle changes — by eating healthier, being more physically active, and losing weight, you can reduce your symptoms, or even reverse some types of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes that is diagnosed early or impaired glucose can sometimes be managed with lifestyle changes alone. However, follow-up with your health provider is essential to ensure glucose levels remain within the expected range to prevent complications.

Do I need to be on medication?
This varies from person to person. Depending on your glucose levels, you may need to be on medication for the rest of your life. Some types of diabetes can be managed by strictly watching what you eat and monitoring your blood sugar levels, while others require oral medication and insulin or both. Individuals with type 1 diabetes are managed with insulin.

Is there a special diet for a person with diabetes?
Whether you are trying to prevent, or control diabetes, your nutritional needs are virtually the same as everyone else’s, so no special foods are necessary. However, if you are at risk or have diabetes, you should stop consuming refined sugars, sodas and very high-calorie drinks and snacks. Reduction in overall carbohydrate intake, especially if one has a sedentary lifestyle, can help with weight loss. Losing just five to 10 per cent of your total weight can help lower your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.

Does having diabetes mean I cannot eat carbohydrates, or sugary foods?
The type of carbohydrates you eat and serving portions matter. Focus on wholegrain carbohydrates because they are high in fibre and are digested slowly, therefore, they keep blood sugar levels more even. Sugary foods should be avoided.

Is a diet high in protein good for a person with diabetes?
It is more about your overall dietary pattern rather than obsessing over specific foods. A healthy diet is a balanced diet that includes protein, carbohydrates, and fats as our bodies need all three to function properly. You should consult a nutritionist at diagnosis.

Does being obese predispose me to diabetes?
Being overweight, or obese is the biggest risk factor for type 2 diabetes. However, the risk is higher if you tend to carry your weight around your abdomen as opposed to your hips and thighs. A lot of belly fat surrounds the abdominal organs and liver and is closely linked to insulin resistance.

What are the risk factors for developing diabetes?
About 90 per cent of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. The risk increases with age, being overweight, sedentary living, family history of diabetes, if you have had large babies (weighing more than four kilogrammes) or if you have conditions like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) or if you are of African or Asian origin. You are more at risk if you are overweight, especially around the waistline.

Are there other complications associated with diabetes?
People with diabetes have an increased risk of developing a number of serious health complications if diabetes is not managed well. These include cardiovascular disease, blindness, kidney failure, and lower limb amputation. Maintaining blood glucose levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol at normal or close to normal levels can help delay and prevent diabetes complications.

Dr Kunyiha is a diabetologist and endocrinologist at the Aga Khan University Hospital.