Did you know that around half a million Australians are currently living with type 2 diabetes and don’t even know it?
In simple terms, type 2 diabetes progresses when insulin-producing cells simply can’t produce enough insulin or when insulin is produced, it doesn’t work as it’s meant to. It is thought that in addition to the half a million undiagnosed cases, around 1.2 million known cases have been registered. And, like many illnesses, men are less likely to seek help than women.
“It’s not about diabetes, it’s actually a question about men and the stereotypical Australian man thinking they’re bulletproof and this is nothing new, but we really have to get through to men that they’re no more bulletproof than women in many respects,” Diabetes NSW & ACT CEO Sturt Eastwood explains to Starts at 60. “We all have to take responsibility for our own health because there’s lots of people who depend on us in many ways.”
Type 2 diabetes is often referred to as a “silent killer”, despite being one of the fastest growing chronic conditions in the world. Eastwood, who himself lives with diabetes, explains that many people don’t show symptoms or simply put changes associated with type 2 diabetes down to old age.
“Some of the common ones for type 2 can be general fatigue, it can be a blurring of eyesight,” he says. “If you take my case as an example, I just thought we went to the toilet a bit more frequently. I just thought, ‘that’s a part of getting old’. I actually ignored my own symptoms and at the end of the day, I was diagnosed with diabetes.”
He also says there’s examples of truck drivers getting their licence renewed and discovering their eye sight has actually been impacted by type 2 diabetes, or even people with ulcers on their feet that simply wouldn’t heal. One of the reasons people become complacent is because it comes on gradually, meaning people get used to things and trick themselves into thinking side effects are actually normal.
Getting tested is much simpler and quicker than old tests which required day-long visits to the hospitals. These days, as Eastwood explains, it’s a simple blood test you can request when testing for blood pressure or cholesterol. Testing once a year is enough to let you know where you’re at and what your situation is.
And while factors such as age, family history and ethnic background can contribute to a type 2 diagnosis, Eastwood says lifestyle changes can make living with type 2 diabetes easier.
“If you lose weight, you become more sensitive to insulin. If you exercise, you also become much more sensitive to insulin. The load on the body becomes much less the less weight you’re carrying and the more you exercise. The whole thing just works better,” he says. “We have all sorts of things that are great for managing diabetes, we just need to make sure you’re diagnosed.
“If you do all that, you can actually live a long productive life, uncomplicated by the issues of diabetes. If you don’t, the silent killer is happening in the background with potentially no symptoms and all of your various blood vessels are being attacked.”
When left untreated or unmanaged, high glucose levels can attack the small and large blood vessels and nervous system, which makes you three times more likely to experience stroke or heart attack, as well as being the leading cause of preventable blindness, kidney malfunction and even amputation.
For many living with type 2 diabetes, Eastwood explains that the Mood, Food, Move and Me mentality is an easy and effective way of managing the condition.
Because a diagnosis requires more structure and discipline in your life, Eastwood recommends remaining active to maintain a healthy state of mind and by staying connected with community, friends and loved ones. It’s also important to give yourself a meaning in life.
Cutting back on unhealthy foods is also important, while keeping active is also vital.
“That’s not about going to the gym with mirrors and loud music and pumping the weights, that’s about parking the car a block away, it’s about taking the stairs instead of the escalator when you can, taking the dog for a walk, putting the remote control next to the TV rather than your arm rest,” he says. “It’s about all of those little things we can build into our daily life to keep us moving a bit.”
Eastwood says it’s also about taking responsibility for your own health by visiting the GP, dietitian and podiatrist to ensure you’re in top health. Getting medications checked and taking them correctly is also important because unfortunately, many with type 2 diabetes stop taking medication because they simply don’t feel sick.
“Don’t take it lightly because there’s all sorts of complications that can occur,” Eastwood warns. “There is no less serious type of diabetes. They all end up at the same place and they’re debilitating for life if you don’t manage it well. There’s actually lots of good medication and support services around to make sure it doesn’t impact your life too much and you live a long, healthy and productive life.”