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January 24, 2018: What is Diabetes?

At Maidenhead Podiatry we are frequently asked – what is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic, potentially debilitating disease.

It occurs as a result of problems with the production and supply of a hormone called insulin.

Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas by the islets of Langerhans which regulates the amount of glucose in the blood.

In type 1 diabetes the body either produces no or insufficient insulin and in type 2, or late onset diabetes, the body can’t use the insulin it produces effectively.

Type 1 diabetes is sometimes called insulin-dependant, immune-mediated or juvenile onset diabetes.

It is caused by an auto-immune reaction where the body’s defence system attacks the insulin producing cells. The reason this happens isn’t understood but explains why the onset of diabetes often follows illness.

It can affect people of any age but usually occurs in children or young adults.

Type 1 diabetics need regular injections of insulin to control the level of glucose in their blood.

Type 2 diabetes is also known as non-insulin dependant or late onset diabetes.

Generally speaking type 2 diabetics do not usually require insulin injections but instead control their blood glucose through diet, medication and exercise.

Type 2 diabetes is most common in people over 45 years old who are also overweight however the prevalence of type 2 diabetes in adolescents and young adults is dramatically increasing.

Similar to older-onset type 2 diabetes, the major predisposing risk factors are obesity, family history, and sedentary lifestyle.

Onset of diabetes at a younger age (defined here as up to age 40 years) is associated with longer disease exposure and increased risk for chronic complications.

Young-onset type 2 diabetes also affects more individuals of working age, accentuating the adverse societal effects of the disease. Furthermore, evidence is accumulating that young-onset type 2 diabetes has a more aggressive disease phenotype, leading to premature development of complications, with adverse effects on quality of life and unfavourable effects on long-term outcomes, raising the possibility of a future public health catastrophe.

Some pregnant women develop a third type called gestational diabetes. It develops in 2-5% of pregnancies but usually disappears post-partum. Having gestational diabetes means an increased risk of type 2 diabetes in later life.

Impaired glucose tolerance means blood glucose levels above what is considered normal but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes although there is a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes and so significant changes to lifestyle including diet and exercise are strongly encouraged.

Recognising type 1 diabetes is important and the onset of symptoms can often be rapid and include

  • abnormal thirst and dry mouth
  • frequent urination
  • extreme tiredness and lack of energy
  • constant hunger
  • sudden weight loss
  • slow healing wounds
  • recurrent infections
  • blurred vision

These symptoms can also occur in type 2 diabetes but are often less obvious as the onset is usually more gradual and therefore harder to detect. When it is finally  diagnosed it may have developed several years earlier with complications already present.

With impaired insulin production and action, sugar remains in the blood causing hyperglycaemia or raised blood sugar and it is this that can cause short and long term issues which can compromise health and lifestyle.

In the longer term, living with diabetes can lead to complications and a diabetic should always be mindful and aware of changes in their health. Changes to the feet can take place with loss of sensation called neuropathy and reduction in peripheral circulation which in turn can lead to compromised healing.

The Podiatrists at Maidenhead Podiatry regularly perform diabetic foot checks for patients including

  • Visual health check
  • Skin colour and condition
  • Nail health
  • Pulse testing using Doppler
  • Sensation testing using 10g filament
  • Fine sensation testing using 128Hz tuning fork
  • Hot/cold temperature distinction

Early diagnosis and changes made to lifestyle and environment can significantly lessen the impact type 1 diabetes and those same changes in an adult can dramatically reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

There are many misconceptions about diabetes.

  • Anyone and everyone is at risk
  • Diabetes hits all populations regardless of income or social status
  • Diabetes is becoming increasingly common
  • More than 240 million people have diabetes worldwide
  • 380 million will have developed it by 2025
  • In Asia, Middle East, Oceania and Caribbean up to 20% of people are diabetic
  • Diabetes affects all age groups
  • Diabetes affects women proportionately slightly more than men
  • Up to 80% of type 2 diabetes is preventable

If you would like more information about foot care at Maidenhead Podiatry or to make an appointment to see one of our podiatrists please call 01628 773588 and speak to one of our reception team.