Living With Diabetes: How to take control
We at Mental Healthy have talked a lot about blood sugar in the past, as well as diet and how these things can affect your mental health – and vice versa. In this special feature we look at Diabetes, the condition and the way it can impact upon the lives of sufferers.
Diabetes The Facts
There are more than 3 million people in the UK with diabetes. According to the charity Diabetes UK, this figure is expected to rise to around 5 million by 2025. In this special feature we speak to three women living with the condition to find out how they cope and the impact the diagnosis has had on their lives.
In a world where you constantly have to think about the food you consume; when making the wrong choices could lead to serious health implications, the simplest of tasks can be incredibly stressful.
This is the stark reality for people living with diabetes. They have to watch everything they eat and drink in a bid to keep their blood sugar levels stable. If it drops too low, a diabetic can suffer from blurred vision, rapid heartbeat and headaches; if it’s too high, they experience increased thirst, the need to pass urine frequently, extreme fatigue and, in rare instances, can be much more serious.
The good news is much more is now known about the condition and much can be done to control it, which along with education, can give a lot more control back to the sufferer.
Complications linked to badly controlled diabetes include: Eye complications such as glaucoma, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy; foot complications including neuropathy, ulcers, and sometimes gangrene; hypertension which can raise the risk of kidney disease, eye problems, heart attack and stroke; even hearing loss as this article explains.
The Outlook for Diabetes Sufferers
The outlook for patients with diabetes is better than it has ever been, with personal monitoring at it’s most evolved, treatments refined and support groups and systems – along with education, readily available.
The challenges of managing diabetes are varied – for some, the diagnosis is seen as an opportunity to lead a healthier lifestyle, but others feel resentful and frustrated at the sacrifices they have to make.
The outlook emotionally can be one of uncertainty. Many people feel relief when symptoms they have been experiencing finally have a name and diagnosis, however these feelings usually accompany fear, uncertainty and even anger at finding out you have a condition which impacts upon your life – these feelings are completely rational and normal, and we will take a look at how some other people have coped with diagnosis below.
Angela, 61, from Boston in Lincolnshire, has also struggled to manage her condition since her diagnosis in 2007.
“I was extremely shocked and very frightened, when I found out I had diabetes,” she said. Which can often be the case in the early stages of diagnosis, however with understanding of the condition and support these feelings will likely subside.
“Although I try to be good with my diet, most of the time, I find it hard, particularly when socialising, as I enjoy my food and the occasional glass of wine. It is hard having to constantly think about whether the food I consume is going to raise my sugar levels and how this may affect my health.
One sufferer, who has really struggled to control the condition, is Lynne from Huntingdonshire.
Lynne was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes in 2007, when she was 60. She’d had no symptoms but had gone to the GP for a routine blood test.
“In many ways I wasn’t surprised when I was diagnosed, because I have always struggled with my weight and have never been a big fan of exercise,” she said. “I hate having to think about what I eat all the time now; I miss cakes, biscuits and chocolate so much, but avoid them as much as I can.”
Until earlier this year, Lynne, 65, had experienced no adverse affects from her diabetes, other than the occasional bladder infection, but in March this year she was involved in a serious car accident, which medics believe may have been caused by her blood sugar level becoming dangerously high.
“When I was admitted to hospital after the accident, my sugar level was in the high 20s (a normal level is about 4mmol/L, anything above 9mml/L is high). The doctors said they couldn’t be certain if it was high because of the crash, or if it actually caused it,” Lynne said.
“Fortunately no one, other than me, was hurt.”
A stark reminder that monitoring must be part of everyday life for sufferers, ensuring the right lifestyle and or medication can be the difference between a healthy happy life with minor adjustments, and life changing consequences.
For some people, however, a diabetic diagnosis has had a more positive impact on their life.
Pam, 65, from Horncastle in Lincolnshire was diagnosed in 2004 and saw it as an opportunity to change her lifestyle and diet.
“I use the Glycemic Index to ensure meals are sensibly balanced and I no longer snack between meals,” she said. “I also stopped drinking alcohol and I walk every day. I lost weight in the early days and genuinely believe I have felt much fitter since becoming diabetic, odd as that may seem.”
Most health experts agree that the UK is facing a huge increase in the number of people with Type 2 diabetes. This is due in part to our ageing population, but also because of the rapidly rising number of overweight and obese people.
These figures are alarming and show that diabetes is one of the biggest health challenges facing the UK today.
Living with Diabetes: Some Lifestyle Tips
With this in mind, it is important that anyone with diabetes is able to manage and control his or her condition to stay as healthy as possible. Diabetes is a condition that can be greatly impacted by making a relatively simple lifestyle changes, the below may sound obvious but the impact is not to be underestimated.
- Stress can raise your blood sugar level, so learn ways to lower your stress by taking up a relaxing hobby such as gardening, walking, meditating or listening to your favourite music.
- Make sure you eat well and keep active too.
- Plan your meals carefully and choose foods that a lower in calories, saturated fats, trans fats, sugar and salt. Eat foods with more fibre such as wholegrain cereals, breads, rice or pasta and drink water instead of juice or soda.
- And set a goal to be more active most days a week. Start slowly by taking 10-minute walks 3 times a day and twice a week work to increase your muscle strength with exercises such as yoga or even heavy gardening.
- For advice on how to control your diabetes, rather than letting it control you, visit Diabetes.co.uk - a website offering advice, support, recipe ideas and the opportunity to talk to other suffers on a forum.
Diabetes Fact File:
- Diabetes is a lifelong condition that causes a person’s blood sugar level to become too high.
- There are two types of diabetes – Type 1 and Type 2.
- Type 1 diabetes sees the body’s immune system attack and destroy the cells that produce insulin.
- Type 2 is where the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or the body’s cells don’t react to insulin.
- Symptoms include: feeling very thirst, urinating frequently, feeling very tired, weight loss and loss of muscle bulk, cuts or wounds that heal slowly, frequent episodes of thrush, blurred vision.
It is very simple to get tested, many pharmacies can do the test for you, but if you are concerned or think you might have Diabetes, a visit to the GP can start you on a path of better heath and a hopeful future.