What is diabetes?


DIABETES is the ninth leading cause of death around the world causing more than a million deaths annually.
Medical experts say women, especially those in the reproductive age group, are at a higher risk of developing Type-2 diabetes.
Diabetes is a disease in which the body’s ability to produce or respond to the hormone insulin is impaired, resulting in abnormal metabolism of carbohydrates and elevated levels of glucose in the blood.
According to webmed.com, Type-2 diabetes (formerly called adult-onset or non-insulin-dependent diabetes) can develop at any age. It most commonly becomes apparent during adulthood. However, Type-2 diabetes in children is rising.
As Type-2 diabetes gets worse, the pancreas may make less and less insulin. This is called insulin deficiency.
Type-1 diabetes (formerly called juvenile-onset or insulin-dependent diabetes) accounts for five-10 out of 100 people who have diabetes.
In Type-1 diabetes, the body’s immune system destroys the cells that release insulin, eventually eliminating insulin production from the body. Without insulin, cells cannot absorb sugar (glucose) which they need to produce energy.
Deputy director, Non-Communicable Diseases(NCDs) in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Dr Justice Mudavanhu says women are more vulnerable because of the gender roles and power dynamics as this has an impact on how they access healthcare services.
“Women go through several phases during their lifetimes, from puberty to childbirth to menopause,” explains Dr Mudavanhu.
“Combined with other factors, women tend to gain weight after each of these phases.
“This weight gain keeps on adding over the years, simultaneously increasing their Body Mass Index (BMI).
“This is unlike in the case of men where the weight gain is constant. And this gain contributes to an increased risk of diabetes.”
He added that women, and further those in the reproductive age group, fall in the high risk category.
Women suffering from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and pregnant women are more prone to diabetes,” said Dr Mudavanhu
“Due to hormonal changes during pregnancy, plus other factors such as obesity, PCOS, Pre-diabetes or a history of diabetes, they get gestational diabetes.
“Though a temporary condition which goes away after childbirth, it can affect both the mother and child if not controlled properly.
“Gestational diabetes is an even bigger problem than diabetes. In 80 percent of cases, it goes away after delivery and then people forget about it.
“But this could later turn into proper diabetes in the next 10 years (if they follow an unhealthy lifestyle).”
Anyone with a family history of the condition or leading a sedentary lifestyle is at risk.
Patients with diabetes are advised to reduce their consumption of refined carbohydrates and adhere to a high-fibre, low-fat and low-calorie diet.
Daily aerobic exercise is recommended because exercise naturally lowers blood sugars and helps control the disease.
Insulin therapy is absolutely essential for most patients with Type-1 diabetes mellitus, and insulin is also required in some cases of Type-2 diabetes mellitus. Insulin is administered by injections or an insulin pump.
Oral glucose-lowering medications work to lower blood sugar by either stimulating the pancreas to produce more insulin; inhibiting glucose production by the liver; enhancing the body’s response to insulin; or blocking digestive enzymes involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates.
Pancreas transplants may be performed in patients when treatment with medications fails.
All patients with diabetes must monitor their blood glucose levels to verify that the diabetes is under control.
The frequency of monitoring depends on the type of medication a patient uses.
Low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia) is a serious adverse effect of diabetic medications and may cause sweating, shakiness, dizziness, confusion, loss of consciousness or seizures.
Type-2 diabetes mellitus is considered a preventable disease, and people with prediabetes can prevent a progression to diabetes by losing weight, eating a healthy diet and exercising.
A combination of daily aerobic exercise and resistance training (twice a week) is very beneficial for maintaining blood sugar control. In Zimbabwe, statistics reveal that before independence, diabetes was at 0.44 percent and in 2005, the figure had ballooned to 10 percent of the population.
There have been no latest studies but the Zimbabwe Diabetes Association (ZDA) estimates that the figure could have further risen to an estimated 20 percent or more.


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