The number of people with diabetes in Ireland is growing rapidly. At present there are an estimated 191,000 people with the condition and approximately 30,000 of these are undiagnosed. More worryingly, a recent VHI study estimates that there are a further 146,000 people with undetected pre-diabetes.
Knowing the symptoms and risk factors for diabetes is therefore extremely important as non-diagnosis can seriously affect your health and your future quality of life. Many people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes have already had up to 12 years exposure to long-term high blood glucose levels and have health complications on diagnosis.
Undiagnosed or poorly controlled diabetes can damage your heart, arteries, eyes, nerves and kidneys leading to serious health problems for you and your family to cope with. This is why the earlier you are diagnosed, the more you can do to prevent these problems from occurring.
Before you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes you may have been feeling ill for some time or you may have had no symptoms at all. Some people are picked up during routine health checks at their workplace, by their insurance company, or by their GP.
Unfortunately, some people are diagnosed following major complications of hidden type 2 diabetes. This can include having a stroke or heart attack.
When someone is diagnosed, their GP or hospital medical team can get a good idea of how long their blood sugars have been too high by the degree of complications they have already developed.
Diabetes risk factors
You are more at risk of getting type 2 diabetes if you:
•Are over 40 years of age
•Have a parent or brother/sister with diabetes
•Had diabetes during a pregnancy
•Are overweight for your height
•Do not take 30 minutes of physical activity daily
•Have high blood pressure
•Have high cholesterol
And/or recognise any of these symptoms:
•Fatigue or lack of energy
•Frequent trips to the bathroom (urination) especially at night
•Rapid and unexplained weight gain or loss
•Numbness, pain or tingling in your hands or feet.
The more risk factors or symptoms you have the more likely you are to have diabetes or pre-diabetes.
If you are worried
If you are worried, speak to your GP and tell them why you think you may have diabetes. A simple diabetes test will ease any worries you may have.
If you are diagnosed with diabetes, don’t worry. Your doctor will take steps to treat and control your condition. Early detection, effective treatment and good control will help you avoid the more serious health-related problems of diabetes and allow you to maintain your quality of life.
People who are unaware that they have, or are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, may already have developed heart disease without knowing it. Heart disease is the most life-threatening complication for people with type 2 diabetes. The rate of heart disease is 30% higher in people who have type 2 diabetes than it is in the general population.
Eye complications or blindness
One of the symptoms of undiagnosed or poorly controlled type 2 diabetes is blurred vision caused by the high blood sugar levels associated with the condition. People who are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes or who already have the condition are at risk of developing eye disease that affects the back of the eye. This is called ‘diabetic retinopathy’. If diabetic retinopathy is untreated it can lead to blindness. Diabetic retinopathy can:
•Damage the retina – if retinal disease is not detected and treated early, the retina can actually come away from the back of the eye, and vision is lost completely
•Cause cataracts – cloudy vision that may be treated by new glasses or sometimes surgery
•Cause glaucoma – if diagnosed and treated early, it can be controlled.
Type 2 diabetes can also cause kidney disease called ‘diabetic nephrophathy’. Over a number of years, high blood sugar and high blood pressure can damage the small blood vessels in the kidney. The first sign that the kidneys are being damaged is that they start leaking protein into the urine. Healthy kidneys act like a sieve, holding onto protein. Once they become damaged, it leaks out. If you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes your doctor can detect this problem with a simple urine test, and take steps to address it.
Nerve disorders called ‘diabetic neuropathy’ are microvascular conditions that can affect people with type 2 diabetes. The sooner someone who has type 2 diabetes is diagnosed and begins treatment, the greater the chance of controlling blood these disorders. This is because good control of blood sugar and treatment for diabetes will slow down or prevent neuropathy.
Some people with nerve damage have no symptoms. Others may have symptoms such as hypersensitivity, pain, tingling, or loss of feeling, in the hands, arms, feet, and legs. Nerve problems can occur in every organ system, including thedigestive tract, heart, and sex organs.
Some people may have a complete lack of sensation and this can predispose them to, for example, getting an ulcer on their foot. They may cut their foot, the wound becomes infected and they don’t feel it. If untreated, this may eventually lead to the need to have a limb amputated.
Sometimes people with type 2 diabetes develop widespread damage to nerves that can affect the intestinal system, causing diarrhoea. Some people experience a full feeling in the stomach, or nausea. They may notice dizziness if they stand up quickly. Damage to nerves in the pelvis can lead to bladder problems and men may have difficulty getting an erection.
Early diagnosis is vital
The possible complications of type 2 diabetes are very serious and in some cases can be life threatening. So if you are worried do go to your GP (family doctor) who can quickly and easily find out if you have the condition.
For more information about diabetes call our helpline on 1850 909 909