The more the person with diabetes understands their diabetes, the better their chances of effective self-care and health. This is according to the website of the Centre for Diabetes and Endocrinology (CDE).

According to the South African Diabetes Management Solutions Enterprise, CDE, the principle of empowering patients with knowledge, to the extent that they can perform ‘self-care’, is well-known, yet seldom taken seriously.

An advocate for teaching patients how to manage their own diabetes was Elliott P. Joslin, M.D., often referred to as EPJ, who was the first doctor in the US to specialise in diabetes. His early interest in diabetes and his vision on how to treat the disease and become one of the few doctors at that time to pursue this area of medicine, stemmed from both personal and professional experiences. He founded the Joslin Diabetes Centre and believed the key to managing diabetes lay with patient involvement, education and empowerment.

His theory was that managing tight control of one’s blood glucose through diet, exercise and constant testing could extend one’s life and prevent complications. Regarded as a pioneer in his field, he believed that “educating patients about diabetes was the first step toward people feeling empowered instead of victimised by the disease”. EPJ published the first diabetes patient handbook: Diabetic Manual – for Doctor and Patient.

According to the International Diabetes Federation, 415 million people have diabetes in the world. “By 2040 this will rise to 642 million,” the IDF projects. In South Africa – one of the 32 countries of the IDF African region, there were 2.28 million cases of diabetes in 2015.

Further information provided by the IDF Diabetes Atlas, Seventh Edition 2015 discloses that the greatest number of people with diabetes are between 40 and 59 years of age, and 46% of people with diabetes are undiagnosed.

Early diagnosis is very important. Diabetes SA lists the following signs and symptoms of diabetes:

  • Unusual thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Unusual weight loss
  • Extreme fatigue or lack of energy
  • Blurred vision
  • Frequent or recurring infections
  • Cuts and bruises that are slow to heal, boils and itching skin. Tingling and numbness in hands or feet.

Talking on the seriousness of diabetes, Diabetes SA writes: “If it (diabetes) is left untreated or is not well managed, the high levels of blood glucose associated with diabetes can slowly damage both the fine nerves and the small and large blood vessels in the body, resulting in a variety of complications.”

A person can be diagnosed with a Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, or Gestational diabetes which occurs during pregnancy. (According to the IDF, 20.9 million live births were affected by diabetes during pregnancy in 2015 globally – that is 1 in 7 births.)

The World Health Organisation (WHO) classifies Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes as follows:

  • Type 1 diabetes (previously known as insulin-dependent or childhood onset diabetes is characterized by a lack of insulin production.
  • Type 2 diabetes (formerly called non-insulin dependent or adult-onset diabetes) is caused by the body’s ineffective use of insulin. It often results from excess body weight and physical inactivity.

If you have any concerns about your health, speak to your local pharmacist or doctor.