Are you in the 30s? It’s time you start checking your blood sugar levels. If you lead a sedentary life and/or diabetes runs in your family it is all the more necessary. Dr. Shalini Jaggi, Senior consultant, Diabetology, Sri Balaji Action Medical Institute recommends regular testing of blood sugar levels post 35 years of age.
Diabetes is basically when the level of blood sugar in the body becomes more than that is required. This happens either when the pancreas completely stops producing insulin (Type 1 Diabetes) or even if the insulin is produced in the body, it does not act properly because of insulin resistance (Type 2 diabetes). Insulin resistance primarily happens because of obesity wherein fat cells do not allow the insulin to act properly. Also, type 1 diabetes is usually seen in children and teenagers whereas type 2 diabetes is generally seen in the older population. However, due to increasing obesity and sedentary lifestyle, type 2 is affecting children and teens too.
There is no specified age group for checking Type 1 diabetes. It can occur anytime between the age of 1 year to early teens. For the screening of Type 2 diabetes, Glucose Tolerance Test (GTT) is recommended once a year in people above the age of 35. However, if a person has a strong family history of diabetes, screening is recommended at a much earlier age.
But, if one blood test shows increased sugar levels, does it mean the patient has hyperglycemia? Dr. Shalini says that one reading is not enough. She says, “No, a random blood sugar reading cannot be indicative of diabetes. According to American Diabetes Association, if fasting blood sugar is more than 126 mg/dl and blood pressure is more than 200 mg/dl along with more than 6.5% of HbA1C (glycosylated haemoglobin), then a person is diabetic.”
Causes: It is a known fact that diabetes is a lifestyle disease and often it is hereditary. But Dr. Shalini enumerates other reasons, too. She says, “Although they are the major contributors, there are a host of other reasons too.”
Following are the reasons:
• Diabetes can be drug induced which is usually secondary to drugs such as steroids.
• Inactive or sedentary lifestyle.
• The disease can also be triggered by pregnancy hormone. Sometimes, the expecting mother develops diabetes in the 7th month of her pregnancy which is called gestational diabetes. Her blood sugar levels become normal once she delivers her baby.
Complications: Diabetes is called a killer disease. According to the doctor, “Diabetes is rightly called a killer disease because it causes a lot of complications. It causes life threatening damages to all the organs of the body including kidneys, retina, nerves and heart. If not treated on time, the damages could be fatal. The complications can be on two levels – microvascular and macrovascular. In the microvascular level, small blood vessels get affected which cause neuropathy, nephropathy, retinopathy, etc. In macrovascular level, diabetes causes various cardiovascular diseases and neurological complications like stroke, heart attack, etc.”
Treatment: If the sugar level is high, then are insulin injections the only way out? Dr. Shalini explains, “Not always. Insulin is the best choice of treatment but there are other ways too. In Type 1, insulin is the only way out as oral medications do not have any effect on this type of diabetics. However, in type 2 patients, for immediate control of blood sugar levels, insulin is recommended but later after patient’s consent, he/she can be put to oral medications and insulin can be stopped.”
Then there is another phenomenon that needs to be taken care of. If sugar levels goes suddenly down, how to deal with the situation? For this the doctor enlightens, “In diabetics, a common dangerous phenomenon that occurs is hypoglycemia. It occurs when the blood sugar levels suddenly drops below 60 mg/dl in patients who are on insulin or medication. This causes distress to patients. For immediate recovery, the patient should be given 15 gms glucose or any sweet like chocolates, sugar or candy.”
Prevention: Diabetes is considered to be a hereditary disease. But there is hope. It can be prevented. The doctor advices, “If a person has a strong family history of diabetes, lifestyle and dietary modifications are very essential. From a very early age, the practice of healthy eating and leading an active life should be inculcated. Children should not be allowed to gain weight as obesity is a major cause of diabetes. They should be encouraged to indulge in lots of physical activities. 30-45 minutes of brisk walk everyday for at least 5 days a week is recommended along with a well balanced nutritious diet.”
New Research: There are various researches going on in the field of diabetes, like finding novel ways of delivering insulin and new drugs. To surgically cure diabetes, research is going on in transplanting pancreas, transplanting stem cells, etc.
The article was first published in Eve’s Times magazine and has been reproduced here with the permission of the editor, Swati Amar.