Diabetes: what are the risk factors?

Worldwide, diabetes is on the rise. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 422 million adults have diabetes and that in 2018, 5.2 million deaths could be attributed to the effects of diabetes or high blood glucose. This means that 1 in 11 adults on the planet are currently living with diabetes.

Almost half of the people with diabetes don’t know it because it can take a long time to develop symptoms. Some basic facts that are important to know about this all too common disease.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs when the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin (the hormone responsible of controlling the blood sugar levels) or when our body has trouble using the insulin it produces effectively. This leads to high blood sugar levels (or hyperglycemia), which over time can cause severe damage to many of the body’s systems (notably the nerves and the blood vessels). There are 3 commonly known types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes: This type of diabetes usually affects young people. It requires daily administration of insulin. The cause is not known and there is no way to prevent it.
  • Gestational diabetes: This type of diabetes occurs in pregnant woman, and is usually diagnosed by a screening test between 24-28 weeks of pregnancy. Most women with gestational diabetes will be well controlled with diet and exercise and will resume normal blood sugar levels after pregnancy. However, these women remain at higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later on in life.
  • Type 2 diabetes: Type 2 diabetes is caused by the inability of the body to effectively use the insulin that the pancreas produces. It is the type of diabetes that affects the most people around the world, and is largely a result of obesity and low levels of physical activity.

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

Symptoms may begin gradually and can be quite difficult to identify at first. They may include malaise and fatigue, increased voiding and increased thirst, blurred vision, poor healing of skin wounds, increased frequency of bladder infections or thrush. Most people with Type 2 diabetes won’t have any symptoms, and might be diagnosed through a screening blood test done because of other risk factors (people in the family with diabetes, obesity, poor physical activity, cigarette smoking, etc.)

What are the consequences of diabetes?

Over the years, high levels of blood sugar can cause irreversible damage to the eyes, the nerves, the kidneys, the heart and the blood vessels. This means an increase in the risk to suffer from heart attacks and strokes, increased risk of blindness, kidney failure, and many consequences of poor circulation (poor healing wounds and ulcers, amputations and erectile dysfunction).

How can I try to prevent getting diabetes?

The good news is, even if you have a strong family history of diabetes, simple lifestyle modifications have been shown effective at preventing or delaying the development of Type 2 diabetes. To help prevent diabetes and its complications, people should:

  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Be regularly active (30 min of moderate to intense physical activity on most days)
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet (low in refined sugars and saturated fats)
  • Avoid cigarette/tobacco use

In summary, if you are an adult over the age of 40 with other risk factors (obesity, poor physical activity, smoker, previous gestational diabetes or family history of diabetes), you should talk to your family doctor about the possibility of getting screened for diabetes. If the results are normal, they can be repeated every 3 years.

Dr Méli Noël is a Canadian doctor based at IMC Jelita. Dr Méli also consults in French. Please call 6887 4440 or visit www.imc-healthcare.com for an appointment.


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