A doctor checks a patient's glucose levels.
A doctor checks a patient's glucose levels.

#WorldDiabetesDay: About 3.5m South African suffer from diabetes

By Sol Makgabutlane Time of article published Nov 13, 2018

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November 14, is World Diabetes Day and the theme chosen is “The Family and Diabetes”.

About 6% of the South African population - about 3.5million people - suffer from diabetes, and 5 million more are estimated to have pre-diabetes - when blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be considered as diabetes. Most cases of pre-diabetes in South Africa are undiagnosed.

Diabetes is the second most common cause of death in the country, according to the latest (2016) Statistics South Africa report on mortality and causes of death.

The majority of people with diabetes have Type 2 diabetes - where the body becomes resistant to insulin, resulting in dangerously high blood sugar levels. Type 2 diabetes is often caused by lifestyle or genetic factors.

On average it takes seven years for a person to be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, as symptoms can be mild and may develop gradually. As a result, about 30% of people with Type 2 diabetes will already have developed complications by the time they are diagnosed.

Diabetes complications are serious and include heart disease, stroke, blindness, amputations and kidney failure. These complications can largely be avoided by early diagnosis and proper treatment.

Type 2 diabetes is placing a large burden on the South African healthcare system. Managing diabetes effectively requires daily treatment, regular monitoring, a healthy diet and lifestyle and ongoing education.

The costs associated with diabetes are alarming. There are direct costs of the disease, including hospital and medication costs and disability grants, as well as indirect costs, such as work absenteeism, time spent caring for sick relatives and reduced productivity.

Around 76% of diabetes-related deaths in South Africa occur in people younger than 60 years - the most economically active age group of the population. Health expenditure for diabetes for adults in South Africa is projected to increase by 50% between 2010 and 2030.

Understanding diabetes

All South Africans can potentially be affected by diabetes, and awareness of the signs, symptoms and risk factors are vital for early detection.

Diabetes is a condition whereby the body is unable to maintain the blood sugar levels within the normal range. The four most important factors in diabetes management are:

Healthy eating habits - no special products are required.

Regular exercise - 20 to 30 minute exercise sessions, three times a week. People with a heart condition or people who have not exercised for a long time, should consult a doctor before starting an exercise routine.

The use of medication/insulin injections, as prescribed by a healthcare worker.

Regular testing of blood sugar levels.

It is important to be able to distinguish between the symptoms of high and low blood sugar levels.

General symptoms of high blood sugar levels:

Unquenchable thirst.

Urinating more than usual.

Hunger, despite regular eating.

Weight loss

Feeling tired and listless

Blurred vision

Nausea and vomiting

A short attention span and poor memory

Recurrent skin infections


Source: Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University

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