Diabetes Mellitus- The Sweet Bitter Truth

“You are so sweet” is a compliment but beware it could indicate diabetes mellitus as well.Jokes apart, diabetes is a slowly progressive condition where you have abnormally high levels of blood sugar. If you are among the 72 million Indians who have diabetes mellitus, then it is important to educate yourself on how to manage this condition and prevent the related complications.

There are two types of diabetes mellitus, type 1 diabetes which mostly occurs in children and is usually genetics and manifests in children, and type 2 diabetes which occurs in adults.

How does the body develop high sugar levels?

Sugar or glucose in the body is used by our body cells for energy. The glucose can get inside the cells only in the presence of a hormone called insulin, which is secreted by the pancreas.

There are two ways the body may develop persistent high blood sugar. Firstly, the body may secrete less or no insulin, causing the sugar to remain in blood rather than moving into the cells. Secondly, the cells in the body may fail to recognize insulin (called insulin resistance), and the glucose is unable to get inside the cells, and the body is unable to make energy. This glucose remains in the blood, thus increasing the blood glucose levels.

Why is having too much sugar within the body harmful?

Too much sugar in the body harms the blood vessels and the nerves and disrupts function of all the organs. High blood sugar accelerates fat deposition in the blood vessel walls and may cause blockages, leading to heart attack and stroke. The blood vessels in the kidney may get affected, overtime leading to kidney failure. If the small vessels in the eye becomes affected, the person may lose vision. The blood supply to the legs and hands may be compromised and can lead to several complications. The nerve damage in the legs can cause loss of sense in the legs, thus increasing the risk of injury. In extreme cases, amputation may be needed.

When you have too much sugar in the body, it even affects your sexual life and fertility.

How do I know that I have high blood sugar?

If you have high blood sugar, you may:

  • Feel more thirsty

  • Feel like to pee every now and then

  • Feel hungry all the time

  • Have extreme weakness and fatigue

  • Get frequent gum or skin infections

Getting tested is the best way to know if you have developed diabetes. A blood test is all you need, to diagnose diabetes. The blood sugar test done may show sugar levels before meals (known as fasting blood glucose), which should be less than 125 mg/dl. The blood sugar test done randomly should be below 200 mg/dl, however, blood glucose levels more than 140 mg/dl at any time is not normal.

What are my chances of developing diabetes?

You have a high risk of developing diabetes, if a family member is already suffering from it. Although being born in a family is not in your control, there are other‘controllable’ risk factors that may increase your chances of developing diabetes. These include:

  • Eating unhealthy diet, consisting of processed foods and sugars, and devoid of fruits, vegetables, and whole foods

  • Sitting all the time

  • Being obese

  • Not engaging in any physical activity

  • Not getting enough sleep

  • Having too much stress

How is diabetes treated?

Complete cure for diabetes is still not available, but high blood sugar levels can be effectively managed by certain lifestyle modifications (like regular exercise and healthy diet) and anti-diabetic medications.

If the blood sugar levels are not getting controlled with oral medications, then insulin injections are prescribed.

How can I prevent diabetes?

Diabetes can severely hamper your lifestyle if not managed well. It is better to prevent it, rather than trying to manage it. You need to be motivated enough to modify your lifestyle to keep this condition at bay. The preventive measures include:

  • Eating healthy, by including lost of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole foods in the diet

  • Avoiding high sugar containing foods such as sweets, aerated drinks, packaged fruits juices etc

  • Engaging in some form of physical activity for atleast 30 minutes per day

  • Learning to manage stress through yoga, meditation etc.

  • Getting enough sleep

  • Maintaining a healthy weight.

Can long-term diabetes lead to erectile dysfunction?

Prolonged high blood sugar can damage nerves and blood vessels supplying to the penis, which may lead to erectile dysfunction.

If I have diabetes, will my children have diabetes in future?

There is ample evidence that type-2 diabetes has a strong genetic basis. If you have diabetes, your children have a 40% chance of developing diabetes, and if both parents have it, then the risk is 70%.

Why are diabetics more prone to infections?

High blood sugar in your body provides a favorable environment for the growth and multiplication of microorganisms like fungi and gram-negative bacteria. Moreover, impaired blood supply also inhibits healing. These two factors increase the risk of infection in diabetics. They may develop recurrent respiratory, urinary, gastrointestinal and skin infections.

How should I take care of myself if I am a diabetic?

Taking good care of yourself is crucial for preventing and delaying the complications. Following are the ten tips for self-care:

1. Monitor your blood glucose levels regularly.

2. Get your blood pressure checked regularly.

3. Go for eye tests every 6 months.

4. Get kidney functions tests done once a year.

5. Check your feet daily for any injury.

6. Wear comfortable shoes.

7. Carry some form of instant glucose such as candies with you.

8. Get infections treated at the earliest.

9. Be careful with hot or cold water, as you may not be able to feel it.

10. Take the medications regularly as advised.

What are the normal and abnormal blood sugar ranges?

  • Normal blood sugar range 70 – 140mg/dL

  • Hypoglycemia < 70 mg/dL

  • Random blood glucose levels above 140 mg/dL indicates prediabetes and above 200mg/ dL is considered diabetes.

How do I know if I am at risk of diabetes?

You may use the tool below to calculate your risk and interpret your risk scores accordingly.