Health experts have warned diabetes sufferers to exercise caution during hot weather conditions.
Themba Muhlarhi, a pharmacist at Medipost Pharmacy, explained that during South Africa’s hot summer months, both type 1 and type 2 diabetics should take extra precautions to avoid heat stroke or exhaustion “because they are at significantly higher risk”.
“Symptoms of heat exhaustion include headache, dizziness or nausea, perspiration, fainting and rapid heart rate, and should be treated as a medical emergency for anyone, including people with diabetes who are especially vulnerable to the heat,” he said.
Muhlarhi added that being dehydrated lead to cause diabetics’ blood sugar levels to rise dangerously high.
“It is essential to drink plenty of water at all times, especially on hot days and when exercising, in addition to following your usual treatment plan,” he said.
“Avoid alcohol, caffeinated or sugary drinks, as these actually dehydrate your body more and often contain unhealthy levels of carbohydrates.”
Knowledge is power
Muhlarhi believes that understanding more about the finer details of living with diabetes is important for patients and their families, and that being informed about the health condition can help make it easier for sufferers to manage their condition.
“We also need more awareness about screening because the symptoms of type 2 diabetes, in particular, may not always be obvious,” he said.
The pharmacist added that diabetes was a long-term condition, characterised by higher blood sugar levels.
“Some people’s bodies cannot produce the hormone insulin needed to break down sugars in the blood digested from the food we eat,” he explained.
“This is known as type 1 diabetes, and it is usually diagnosed in childhood and requires lifelong insulin therapy.”
Muhlarhi explained that type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is a progressive condition where the body becomes less sensitive to insulin and the pancreas produces less of it.
“The body cannot use insulin as effectively to clear the excess sugars from the person’s bloodstream.”
He also believes that a carbohydrate-controlled diet, which is low in fat and high in fibre – coupled with as much exercise or physical activity as possible – is an integral foundation for managing diabetes.
The dangers of diabetes
When diabetes is not well controlled and a person’s blood sugar levels get too high, this can lead to long-term damage as well as life-threatening complications that can develop relatively quickly, Muhlarhi warned.
“Over years or decades, both type 1 and type 2 diabetics are at higher risk of developing nerve damage and chronic complications that can range from cardiovascular disease, kidney damage and slow healing wounds, to vision loss, sexual dysfunction, gum disease and certain cancers,” he said.
“More immediate complications include diabetic ketoacidosis, a build-up of acidic chemicals called ketones in the bloodstream produced when the body breaks down fat rather than carbohydrates for energy.”
The pharmacist cautioned that this can be extremely dangerous and primarily affects people with type 1 diabetes.
“Type 2 diabetics are more prone to hyperosmolar hyperglycaemic state (HHS).”
He explained that when a diabetic’s body is fighting infection, this can cause the blood sugar levels to rise significantly, even if the person is taking their diabetes medication as per usual.
Staying in control
Although diabetes management requires commitment, Muhlarhi noted that the good news is that there is a lot that can be done to keep the blood sugar levels of sufferer’s stable or in the “safe range” once a person becomes aware of their condition.
He said that measures such as glucometers, glucose testing strips, lancets and insulin pumps help to track and control blood sugar.
Muhlarhi also advised diabetes sufferers to test their blood sugar regularly, before and after meals, and to keep a daily record to help track your progress.
“Schedule a check-up with your healthcare provider if you notice any changes or find your blood sugar levels are outside the range they should be,” the pharmacist recommended.
He also noted that a glucometer measures blood glucose levels in a tiny drop of blood, which the person extracts from their finger by pricking it with a clean lancet.
“There are also blood and urine testing kits to detect ketone levels to proactively help in avoiding diabetic ketoacidosis, which can have lasting health implications or even be life-threatening,” Muhlarhi said.
Technology for diabetics
In the modern world, technology is proving to be a helpful tools for people with diabetes to manage their condition more effectively.
Muhlarhi explained that some glucometers automatically digitally record blood sugar readings.
“There are also insulin pumps and sensors referred to as CGMs (continuous glucose monitoring), which continuously monitor blood glucose levels and administer the correct amount of insulin, without the person having to check their blood sugar and inject themselves.”