The Sweet Struggle: Diabetes in Focus (2)

The symptoms of diabetes tend to be specific, though not exclusive. While each symptom in isolation may be associated with a separate disease state, in unison it is more likely than not a pointer to diabetes. Telltale features to watch out for include:

  • Increased frequency of urination
  • Frequent or continuous thirst
  • Increased appetite
  • Weight loss despite increased consumption
  • Weakness or lethargy
  • Tingling sensations in the lower limbs
  • Loss of vision
  • Glycosuria (evidenced by the attraction of ants to standing urine)

The lethality of diabetes becomes more pronounced when the condition is uncontrolled. Early symptoms can progress rapidly to irreversible complications. These include retinopathy (damage to the retina of the eye), neuropathy (nerve damage leading to pain, weakness, and loss of sensation), nephropathy (kidney injury), cognitive decline, and cardiovascular diseases (such as stroke and heart attack).

Neuropathy is a particularly common complication globally, contributing to the risk of diabetic foot. This issue is exacerbated in regions like Africa where poor hygiene and a lack of protective footwear put many at risk.

Diabetic foot, a ghastly outcome of the disease, occurs when an unnoticed small cut or scratch on the foot progresses into a large gangrenous ulcer due to the loss of sensation and poor healing associated with diabetes. Sadly, amputation of the foot or leg may become necessary to prevent further complications and sepsis.

Diabetic retinopathy, another severe complication, has led to the loss of sight in many individuals due to slow, progressive damage to the blood vessels of the retina.

Despite their frightening nature, these complications are entirely avoidable with proper medical care, including regular check-ups and vigilant management, as will be discussed in the next section.

“Diabetes is scary, but you have a choice: Manage your disease or let it manage you. If you control it, it doesn’t have to govern your life. “ -Lucia Grimaldo Shiffer, with type 2 diabetes.

People dealing with diabetes often feel burdened by the demands of its day-to-day management. As any chronic illness would, it places a toll on every aspect of life -social, physical, mental, and financial. Such persons need care and support to manage their condition to avoid slipping into depression, financial ruin or physical deterioration. This is where the supportive role of family, friends, health professionals and the whole community comes in. The importance of a good support system cannot be overemphasized; just as access to quality health care and proper monitoring to track progress and ensure compliance with medication cannot be overstated, especially in the prevention of complications.

The role of sound health education is likewise essential in management. Diabetic foot, for instance, may be prevented by observing simple precautions such as washing the feet with warm water, drying thoroughly afterwards, applying lotion to the top and bottom surfaces (but not between the toes where infection could easily set in), wearing protective, comfortable shoes and socks at all times, regularly checking for cuts or blisters and proper toenail hygiene. The knowledge of these simple yet vital instructions comes only from education.

Several international NGOs such as the World Diabetes Foundation, Project HOPE, Diabetes Free World, and local non-profits such as PJosh Diabetes Foundation in the Southeast and Diabetes Association of Nigeria have heeded the call in the battle against this ravaging pathology by providing access to care, advocacy and awareness on primary prevention. Several unnamed small groups and individuals also participate in this effort by creating awareness in their immediate communities and on social media.

Despite continuous advances in management strategies, prevention will always trump cure. The responsibility falls on each individual to as much possible prevent Type 2 DM by eating right, maintaining a healthy weight and ensuring maximum physical activeness (a recommended 150 minutes a day). Prevention also includes regular blood glucose level checks, especially for those with genetic predisposition.

Although sugar is sweet, there is nothing sweet about having diabetes. Every symptom associated with the disease posits a heavy challenge to the sufferer. As the old saying goes, there is no time like the present especially when it comes to learning about the condition and getting tested. Remember, it’s not only about seeming fit, it’s about being fit.

Aladi Victoria & Ojeniyi Esther

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