Professor Cathy McHugh
Consultant Endocrinologist, Sligo University Hospital
New medicines and technology can help people with diabetes live healthier lives, but there’s no substitute for weight loss, a good diet and exercise.
The impact that diabetes can have on the eyes and bodily extremities, such as feet are well known, but the heart and kidneys can also be affected. This means it is important for people living with diabetes to have their heart and kidney functions checked when they visit the GP once or twice a year.
The various consequences of diabetes – which result from high blood sugar levels can be impaired vision, amputation of toes, feet or even legs and can also lead to heart failure, heart attack, or kidney failure resulting in dialysis. However most people with diabetes will die as a result of heart disease or stroke.
Link between obesity and type 2 diabetes
Obesity and type 2 diabetes go hand-in-hand, with obesity being a leading cause of diabetes. There is a big risk for diabetes among sedentary, overweight middle-aged people, who need to exercise and eat well.
It is important that people diagnosed with diabetes understand that complications do not inevitably come with the disease. Some live healthy lives, for many years with diabetes. The better a person’s diet is, and the more exercise they do, the better the chances of avoiding complications.
It is important that people diagnosed with diabetes understand that complications do not inevitably come with the disease.
Rise of diabetes technology
High blood pressure is a risk with diabetes, this can be treated with ACE inhibitors which act to relax the blood vessels and reduce blood pressure. The STLG2 inhibitors, meanwhile, work by lowering blood sugar and themselves reduce blood pressure in the kidney and thus can protect the kidneys. There are also new technologies which can also help.
For example, the FreeStyle Libre System is a device that measures blood sugars every 15 minutes. It resembles a two-euro coin and is worn on the arm and linked to a smartphone. At the end of a given day, it can produce graphs of how a person’s sugar levels behaved during the day. These devices and medicines are effective and provide good information but not a substitute for a healthy lifestyle.
Speaking to your GP
It is important people tell their GP when they are experiencing signs of chest pain or shortness of breath. This is because GPs may test a person with diabetes for cholesterol and blood pressure, but not heart problems themselves. People with diabetes are at risk of heart problems and they may not present with typical symptoms. The simple things are important, such as attending GP appointments, exercising, eating well and not to be over reliant on drugs alone to mitigate the effects of the disease. It is important to watch closely for signs of complications and seek help when needed.