Diabetes is a global health concern that affects millions of lives, and its prevalence is on the rise, particularly in Asia. It's not just a medical condition but a complex metabolic disorder that affects how our bodies handle glucose, a form of sugar our cells use for energy.
We engaged in an insightful conversation with Dr. Harold Chiu, an endocrinologist at Doctor Anywhere. Let’s know its common signs and symptoms, the different types of diabetes, and most importantly, the steps we can take to reduce the risk of developing this condition.
What is diabetes?
"Diabetes is a metabolic disorder in which the common manifestation of this is hyperglycemia, which means you have very high levels of sugar in the blood," he explains. This hyperglycemia results in a set of common symptoms that people should be aware of.
The first noticeable sign is frequent urination. Dr. Harold elaborates, "When you have high sugar in your blood, the excess gets filtered by the kidneys and will go out from the urine. So you tend to have frequent urination." This increased urination leads to excessive thirst or polydipsia. Individuals with diabetes often find themselves drinking more water to compensate for the excessive urination.
Moreover, they may experience weight loss due to the loss of sugar and calories from their body. But diabetes's effects don't stop there. Dr. Harold notes, "Very high sugar is toxic to the nervous system, especially to the nerves. Some patients may manifest a decrease in sensation and even painful pins and needle sensations in their hands and feet." Additionally, he mentions that many men with diabetes also face the lesser-discussed issue of erectile dysfunction, which is related to the impact of high sugar levels on the nervous system.
In summary, the common signs and symptoms of diabetes include polyuria (frequent urination), nocturia (nighttime urination), polydipsia (excessive thirst), unexplained weight loss, sensory changes (numbness in hands and feet), and for males, the possibility of erectile dysfunction.
What are the different types of diabetes?
Dr. Harold shared that there are four primary types, each with its unique causes and effects. Understanding these types is important as it guides diagnosis and treatment decisions.
Type 1 Diabetes: This type is the result of an autoimmune response that destroys the pancreatic beta cells responsible for insulin production. The lack of insulin leads to hyperglycemia. It's more common in younger individuals.
Type 2 Diabetes: The most common form of diabetes, Type 2 diabetes, arises from a combination of factors, including insulin resistance, family history, and lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise. Dr. Harold emphasizes that a sedentary lifestyle and obesity are key factors contributing to this type of diabetes. It's often linked to obesity and is increasingly affecting younger adults.
Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM): Occurring during pregnancy, gestational diabetes is caused by placental hormones that induce insulin resistance. Although it usually resolves after childbirth, it raises the risk of developing diabetes later in life.
Other Types: This category encompasses various conditions that affect glucose metabolism, including pancreatic surgery, prolonged steroid use, and rare genetic and familial syndromes.
How to prevent having diabetes?
To reduce the risk of developing diabetes, Dr. Harold recommends a proactive approach. He advises individuals to adopt a healthier lifestyle by watching their diet, avoiding excessive calorie consumption, and incorporating regular exercise into their routines. To maintain a healthy lifestyle, aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week.
Screening also plays a significant role in prevention. Dr. Chiu notes that individuals aged 35 and above should get screened for diabetes. If risk factors like a strong family history of diabetes, hypertension, obesity, previous gestational diabetes, high triglycerides, PCOS, or signs of insulin resistance are present, it's advisable to seek screening earlier.
Furthermore, avoiding vices like excessive drinking, smoking, vaping, and illicit drug use is essential. While it may be challenging to eliminate certain foods from one's diet due to cultural preferences, moderation is key. Dr. Harold encourages practical dietary habits and open communication with healthcare professionals to create a balanced approach.
Diabetes is not to be underestimated. Dr. Harold points out that it's evolving into an epidemic, with younger people increasingly affected. His insights remind us of the importance of prevention through lifestyle changes, screening, and seeking professional guidance. As we face this rising challenge, understanding diabetes and taking proactive steps to manage it become even more critical.
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