Recently, a friend of mine’s Grade 1 daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. She had been unwell on and off and was eventually hospitalised after spiking a fever, at which point the diabetes was discovered. We were all terribly shocked: partly because she’s only 7, and partly because her parents are extremely health-conscious.
On further reflection, I realised that I actually know very little about diabetes (other than that the disposal of used insulin needles can be problematic at times - Ask our Expert!) and that I had subconsciously always equated diabetes with a lifestyle disease that affects older, less “healthy” people.
So with that in mind, when I heard that the 14th November was World Diabetes Day, I decided to do a bit of background reading about this disease, and why we have a commemorative day for it.
In 2006 the United Nations (UN) passed a resolution to designate November 14 as World Diabetes Day, with the idea that having a designated day would raise awareness around diabetes: its prevention, the complications that can arise, and the care that people with the condition need.
Diabetes is a leading cause of blindness, amputation, heart disease and kidney failure and is also one of the leading causes of death in the world, with 1.5 million deaths directly attributed to diabetes in 2012. The majority of diabetes-related deaths occur in low and middle-income countries.
According to the Global Diabetes Community, an estimated 415 million people worldwide are living with diabetes in the world: approximately 1 in 11 of the world's adult population. The World Health Organisation (WHO) puts this figure at 422 million. In addition, 46% of people with diabetes are undiagnosed. The figure is expected to rise to 642 million people living with diabetes worldwide by 2040.
So what is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a disease that occurs when your blood glucose, sometimes called blood sugar, is too high. Blood glucose is the body’s main source of energy and comes from the food we eat. Insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, helps glucose from food get into your cells to be used for energy.
If the body doesn’t make enough—or any—insulin, then glucose then stays in your blood and doesn’t reach your cells. Over time, having too much glucose in your blood can cause a number of different and serious health problems (as mentioned above).
There are 2 types of Diabetes:
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas to be destroyed, preventing the body from being able to produce enough insulin to adequately regulate blood glucose levels.
Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder that results in hyperglycemia (high blood glucose levels) due to the body either being ineffective at using the insulin it has produced; also known as insulin resistance and/or being unable to produce enough insulin.
According to the WHO, Type 2 diabetes is far more common than Type 1 and accounts for the majority of cases worldwide, however just thirty minutes of moderate-intensity activity most days - combined with a healthy diet - can drastically reduce the chance of developing type 2 diabetes.
How does Insulin help Diabetics?
Although there is currently no cure for diabetes, the discovery of the role insulin plays in managing blood sugar has changed the lives of people diagnosed with this disease. And that’s why November 14th is a significant date in the diabetes calendar: it marks the birthday of the man who co-discovered insulin, Frederick Banting.
Banting was a Canadian doctor who co-discovered insulin in 1922, alongside Charles Best. He received the Nobel Prize at age 32 and remains the youngest Nobel laureate in the area of Physiology/Medicine. He was given a lifetime grant to continue his research into the effects of insulin on the body.
Because Type 1 diabetes destroys the beta cells in the pancreas, the body can no longer produce its own insulin. Insulin is therefore prescribed to people with type 1 diabetes and needs to be injected into the body at regular intervals.
People with type 2 diabetes do make insulin, but their bodies don’t respond well to it. Some people with type 2 diabetes may take pills or insulin shots to help their bodies use glucose for energy.
People who have Type 1 diabetes must take insulin as part of their treatment, and it is sometimes necessary for people with type 2 diabetes. The only way to get insulin into the body is by injection with a needle, or with an insulin pen or pump.
The Global Diabetes Society provides the following guide for diabetics regarding injecting insulin safely and hygienically. Firstly, prepare your kit. You will need:
- An insulin pen or syringe
- Enough insulin for the required dose
- A new pen needle
- A sharps disposal box for used pen needles to go into
(Read our blog post: Ask the Expert - How does a diabetic deal with his used needles? for more on this subject)
To perform an insulin injection:
- Wherever possible, wash your hands with soap and water before injecting.
(In case you are wondering why this is so important, read our blog post 5 reasons you should make a habit of handwashing to find out just how many germs your hands come into contact with every day.
- Put a new needle onto your pen.
- Remove the cap of the pen needle.
- Dial up your dose.
- Pick a soft fatty area to inject: tops of thighs, belly, bum and triceps
- Put the needle in and keep the pen steady.
- Push the plunger relatively slowly to inject the dose.
- After the dose has been injected, hold the needle in for a good 10 seconds to help insulin get delivered and prevent any of the dose escaping out.
- Ensure that the used needle is deposited into a sharps bin.
At Initial we really believe that the first and last points are critical! Read our blog post “The need for readily available sharps units” for more on how dangerous incorrectly disposed of needles can be.
For more information on Diabetes, contact Diabetes South Africa. Diabetes South Africa is a non-profit organisation, founded in 1969 to be a support and an advocate for all people with diabetes in South Africa. Their work includes:
- Informing, educating and supporting all people who have diabetes and their families.
- Acting as an advocate for people with diabetes, lobbying for better facilities, cheaper medication and better services.
- Promoting prevention through public awareness of diabetes, its symptoms and risks.