Diabetes is the fastest-growing chronic condition in Australia, affecting nearly 10 percent of Aussies. However, while there’s lots of medical literature out there about the disease, it can be hard to relate all that scientific jargon back to everyday life if you or your loved one live with diabetes.
Starts at 60 blogger Michael Grogan shares his story of what it’s like living with diabetes and the steps he takes to keep potential complications like eyesight loss at bay, so he can stay as healthy and happy as possible. We hope this story will help you if you, too, are affected by diabetes.
How it all started
I was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease more than 10 years ago and as part of my ongoing treatment, my nephrologist kept an eye on my blood sugars. In that time, I was prescribed medication as a precaution, but was able to maintain my blood sugar levels well enough to not need it.
In the last two years however, I have needed to be on medication to control my levels.
When the reality of my Type 2 diabetes hit me, I suffered a lot of embarrassment. I still find it difficult to talk about it within my family; I see it as a form of failure that I could have potentially prevented by maintaining my weight, exercising and watching what I eat.
When it all changed
At first, I was pretty much in denial about having diabetes. It was something that happened to other people, and I didn’t think I was one of them.
For a time, it was all about watching what I ate again and taking my blood sugar levels a few times a day. Everything settled down, and my GP took me off one of the tablets she had prescribed.
Thinking I was in control of my condition, I got slack again, and one night I woke in a sweat, feeling unwell and not sure what was going on. I took my blood sugar and to my horror, it read 23.
It was recommended that my levels be between six and eight before meals and six to 10 two hours after starting a meal. A reading above those levels is not desirable, so a 23 was very worrying.
They say you have turning points in your life and for me, this was mine. I started to exercise, though in limited amounts, as I was recovering from foot surgery at the time. I went back to my GP who put me back on tablets.
Learning to live with diabetes
My diabetes is being treated with tablets and diet, though I also try to get out and walk every day as exercise helps maintain my weight (and gets me out into the fresh air). I’m doing all right so far.
The change to a low sodium, low potassium and low (if not zero) sugar diet was my biggest challenge. So much of the ‘good stuff’ is on my ‘banned’ list; there isn’t a lot I can eat and remain guilt-free. It’s a battle for me some days because so much of my diet has become the same! So I’ve embraced cooking at home and I’m grateful for the diabetes websites that share recipes.
I’ve also seen two diabetic educators, trained nurses who have given me excellent support and advice and who have reviewed what I eat. I’ve also been grateful for the support I’ve received from my GP. My state-based diabetes association (Diabetes NSW) also has a magazine it sends out a few times a year and I’ve found the information within it to be quite useful.
Getting proactive to kick new health goals
I’m not all that keen about pain and I don’t like the idea of having to inject myself, so my aim now is to avoid having to treat my condition with insulin injections. Every three months I have a blood test to check my average blood sugar level, which should measure between 6.5 and seven. Occasionally my levels will be slightly above what I’d like them to be, so I know I need to be more diligent if I want to stay on my current treatment.
I am also aware of the complications that diabetes can cause such as blindness, and get professionally tested regularly to make sure any issues are detected before they cause permanent damage. I wasn’t aware of it before I was diagnosed, but diabetes is the main cause of preventable blindness in Australia so regular eye checks are a must for early detection and treatment.
The problem with diabetes-related eyesight loss is that it comes on really gradually, so you might not notice changes until it’s too late if you don’t get regularly tested. Part of my treatment and management of my condition is to have annual checks done by an optometrist.
I also get tested by a podiatrist every year to make sure I have feeling in my feet. Sensation loss can be a sign that my diabetes is affecting me and can lead to a number of disasters, including stepping on something sharp and not being aware of injury.
The lesson I have learned is to be informed, be proactive in your management of the condition and do all you can to look after yourself. Life goes on and there is still a lot to do and enjoy, and those around you who love you like the notion that you love them back.
Diabetes can cause a range of eye problems, with the most common being diabetic retinopathy (DR). DR is a condition where the tiny blood vessels in the back of your eye are damaged.
DR often has no symptoms in the early stages, so many people won’t realise they have it. In fact, sometimes the changes in vision are so gradual that they may not notice any difference for a while. In the later stages, people with DR may notice blurred, hazy or double vision, or even a sudden loss of sight.
As scary as this sounds, the good news is that most vision loss from diabetes is actually preventable with early treatment. Given the potentially symptomless nature of DR’s early stages, regular eye checks are essential for people with diabetes to ensure it is detected as soon as possible.
If you or your loved one lives with diabetes, there’s an easy way to make sure you never miss an eye check appointment – register for reminders of when your next eye check is due with KeepSight, a free service by Diabetes Australia. The earlier the treatment, the better the result, so sticking to a regular eye check schedule will help you stay healthy.
IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.
There’s a lot to remember when you have diabetes. Sign up to KeepSight and receive a reminder when it’s time to have your next eye check. Regular checks and early detection saves sight.