So what actually is it? Diabetes is one of the first described diseases with reference to Egyptian times who defined it as ‘too much emptying of urine’. It is a condition where the amount of glucose in our blood is too high because the body cannot use it properly.
The hormone insulin, produced by the pancreas (a gland behind the stomach) controls the amount of sugar in the blood. When we digest food and it enters our bloodstream, insulin moves glucose out of the blood and into cells, where it's broken down to produce energy. Insulin is vital for life.
However, a diabetic is unable to break down this glucose into energy because there is either:
1) not enough insulin to move the glucose,
2) or the insulin produced doesn't work properly ( known as insulin resistance)
Type 1 and Type 2 – what’s the difference?
In Type 1 diabetes, the body's immune system attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin. As no insulin is produced, glucose levels increase, which can seriously damage the body's organs.
Commonly known as insulin-dependent diabetes, it usually develops before the age of 40 and often during the teenage years. Life time insulin injections are required.
Type 2 however is where the body doesn’t produce enough insulin – diabetics can control their symptoms by diet, exercise and tablet medication. It is the most common type in the UK, and related to obesity and the elderly. Shift work has recently been identified as a trigger for Type 2 diabetes onset.
How do you know you have diabetes?
A person may feel unusually tired, be passing more urine, excessive thirst, unexplained weight loss, blurred vision, slow healing of cuts, thrush.
A blood test is taken to confirm the diagnosis.
What are the effects of diabetes?
Damage to the nerves of the body, known as diabetic neuropathy is the most common complication of diabetes. The symptoms can include numbness, tingling, pain, and altered pain sensation, which can lead to damage to the skin. Painful muscle wasting and weakness can also occur.
Diabetes doubles the risk of cardiovascular disease - about 75% of deaths in diabetics are due to coronary artery disease. Its complications can include damage to the eyes, kidneys, and nerves. Damage to the eyes- diabetic retinopathy- is caused by damage to the blood vessels in the retina of the eye, and can result in gradual vision loss and blindness.
Kidney damage can occur, leading to tissue scarring, urine protein loss, and eventually chronic kidney disease, sometimes requiring dialysis or even kidney transplant.
Diabetes-related foot problems such as ulcers may occur, and can be difficult to treat, occasionally requiring amputation. It is essential for employers to provide correct footwear and safe working environments.
Useful links regarding diabetes are: www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Diabetes
In our next blog we look at what employers can do to support diabetics in the workplace.