More than three million people in the UK have some form of diabetes, while the majority of the rest of the population believe it to be a disease induced by a combination of a sweet tooth, a sedentary lifestyle and an expanding waistline.
However, there is more to diabetes than that. It can be caused by a genetic predisposition or it can be an important precursor for a more serious undiagnosed problem. A better understanding of the condition could not only prevent patients from developing diabetes but also from suffering more tragic consequences.
Below are the five main things everyone should know about diabetes:
It is an autoimmune disease where the body attacks and destroys the insulin-producing part of the pancreas, thus making it impossible to maintain acceptable blood sugar levels. There are two types of diabetes.
The more common form of diabetes is known as type 2. This is typically a lifestyle-related condition caused by a poor diet and being overweight. This combination can overwhelm an ageing pancreas’s ability to regulate blood sugar. Type 1 is the rarer form that requires insulin injections and typically affects children or early adults.
Many people may be unaware that their lifestyle is driving them towards developing type 2 diabetes but there are signs which can warn of difficulties in the future. For example, gestational diabetes can be a sign that full diabetes is just around the corner. More than half of pregnant women go on to develop diabetes if they don't lose weight or adjust their diet following their pregnancy.
Other warning signs include high blood sugar levels, which can suggest type 2 diabetes could develop. The World Health Organisation defines a person as having pre-diabetes if they have a blood sugar reading between 42-47mmol/mol. It is therefore important that people understand that type 2 diabetes is something that can be controlled and prevented. Regular monitoring of blood sugar levels could alert someone who is close to developing full diabetes to the need to change their lifestyle.
Type 2 diabetes can also lead to more serious complications. People with diabetes need to be far more vigilant about the treatment they receive. For example, treatment to a patient's feet is very sensitive and requires an experienced doctor to ensure that the treatment will not jeopardise the patient's health.
Alternatively, diabetes may be a tool to identify more significant and serious underlying issues. A new diagnosis of type 2 diabetes in someone over 50 (or a sudden unexplained worsening of control in someone who already has type 2 diabetes) can be the first and only sign of pancreatic cancer. Understanding this warning sign can alert a person and their doctor to potential pancreatic cancer, which is often inoperable by the time it is later diagnosed.
Arran Macleod, a solicitor in the Penningtons Manches clinical negligence team, says: "Saturday 14 November 2015 marks World Diabetes Day. It is important that this difficult condition is understood by as many people as possible to help them from developing the condition, to manage their condition well, and to be aware of signs of more serious illness."
Penningtons Manches often acts for diabetics whose clinicians have not understood their condition. A recent study by Diabetes UK on patients' experience of inpatient care suggests that many NHS workers do not fully understand diabetes and how to manage it. This lack of understanding can lead to complications and poor outcomes. We would be happy to speak with anyone who has experienced complications following treatment because of a lack of understanding of the diabetes condition.