Part Two: How can diabetes affect your health? Are you at risk?

Last week, we had a deeper look into what diabetes is and how prevalent it is within Australian society. In summary, diabetes is a chronic health condition that results from a reduced ability to control blood sugar levels. Type 2 diabetes is usually called a 'lifestyle' disease because lifestyle choices such as reduced physical activity and poor diet increase your risk of getting it. Additionally, there are 1.7 million Australians who have diabetes – including those who have been formally diagnosed and those who don't know that they have diabetes.

Once you are diagnosed with diabetes, it is very important to monitor and manage your blood sugar levels. Your doctor may encourage you to change your lifestyle (increasing physical activity levels or changing your diet) and may prescribe medication to help regulate blood sugar levels. This is because having high levels of sugar in the blood can have long term, negative impacts on other aspects of your health! Last week we briefly touched on this, calling them diabetic complications.

Type 2 diabetes increases the risk of having other chronic health conditions such as heart disease and stroke. Having chronic health conditions as a result of having diabetes is so common that 67% of people with diabetes under the age of 60 and 91% of people with diabetes over the age of 60 have another long-term health condition. People with diabetes report higher rates of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression, vision loss and kidney-related disorders than people without diabetes.

Did you know that diabetes is the leading cause of non-traumatic lower limb amputation and end stage kidney disease within Australia?

Diabetes is associated with nerve damage (also known as peripheral neuropathy) and poor circulation (peripheral artery disease) in the lower limbs. This can lead to an increased risk of foot ulcers and infections, which lead to amputations. This is because this nerve damage results in reduced sensation in your feet and lower legs; in other words, if your foot is infected, you cannot feel it.

What are the risk factors for Type 2 Diabetes? (What increases my risk of getting Type 2 diabetes?)

Many Australians are at risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes. We can sort these risk factors into unchangeable factors – things we cannot change and lifestyle factors – things we can change.

Unchangeable factors include familial history of diabetes (genetics) and your age.

Lifestyle factors are choices; the way we choose to live our lives can help prevent or at least delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes. Examples of these include being overweight, your waist circumference measure, your levels of physical activity, eating habits and whether or not you smoke.

Organisations like Diabetes Australia has created easy tools which can help you quickly determine if you are at an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes. Check out the risk assessment in the link below to check if you are at risk and if you may need to get it checked out by the doctor, as well as begin to start changing some lifestyle habits!

Next week we will have a look into exercise and how it can help you manage Type 2 diabetes. As exercise physiologists, we are very concerned about what is safe and effective, so we will look into how and why specific types of exercise can assist you best.