The first step to controlling diabetes is having the correct knowledge on how to manage the disease.
Carol Hendricks, facilitator of Mitchell’s Plain Diabetes Support Group, said having the correct information would encourage diabetics to change their eating habits and to include exercise in their daily activity.
“If you don’t have knowledge, you could die, not of diabetes but of complications, like a stroke, go blind, have a heart attack, kidney failure and amputations,” she said.
To mark World Diabetes Day on Wednesday November 14, support groups in Mitchell’s Plain hosted a 5km fun walk at Westridge Gardens. Members were also taught physical activities they could try at home.
The support groups are based at community halls, including Lobelia, Northwood, Colorado Park, Tafelsig, Stephen Reagon sports hall and Town Centre library.
Ms Hendricks told the Plainsman their slogan is: “Changing our lifestyle, yes we can”
Participants had their blood pressure checked, glucose level tested, received free literature and received low GI (Glycemic Index) bread and snacks.
She said people could walk around with the disease for 10 years and never be diagnosed.
“Diabetes is incurable but it is manageable,” she said.
Ms Hendricks, who lives in Eastridge, has been a diabetic for 32 years. She learned about diabetes while caring for her mother.
“My mother had a stroke and I had to look after her. I went to her doctor to learn how to administer her insulin. I had to empower myself and I wanted to share my knowledge with others” she said.
In 2000 she completed a facilitator training programme by Diabetes South Africa and started a support group with 13 people months later. Today she runs two support groups, the Mitchell’s Plain group at Town Centre library and another at Stephen Reagon sports hall, in Westridge, with a total of 150 members.
“I was overweight and had to change things in my routine, my diet and thoughts to become an ambassador of healthy living,” she said.
She also completed a Community Health Care Work certificate with the University of the Western Cape.
Ms Hendricks encouraged diabetics to change their lives step-by-step.
Eastridge general practitioner (GP) Dr Ellapen Rapiti gave the Plainsman information about diabetes and how patients can improve their lifestyle.
He said diabetes is steadily on the rise all over the world due to people’s eating habits and sedentary lifestyle.
“For every newly diagnosed patient with diabetes at least two others are not diagnosed,” he said.
In South Africa, especially in the rural areas, the condition is not diagnosed because people are not aware of the symptoms of diabetes.
Unfortunately, the only time people seek help is about five to 10 years after they have had it.
Dr Rapiti said this delay was the main cause for complications of untreated diabetes.
“Once complications set in, there is little by way of medical treatment to reverse the complications,” he said.
It is for this reason it is extremely important to screen for diabetes no matter how fit and healthy you may be. A simple blood test can determine whether one is diabetic.
Diabetic symptoms include excessive thirst; passing urine frequently; feeling extremely tired, feeling hungry all of the time; loss of weight; feeling sluggish during the day; being susceptible to a fungal rash over the private parts; erectile dysfunction in men; visual impairment; and minor wounds not healing.
Diabetes affects every cell in the body. Untreated or poorly controlled diabetes can damage the lining of the big and small vessels.
It can affect the eye and cause bleeding in the retina, the back of the eye, and lead to blindness, as well as early cataracts.
It can block the big vessels in the feet and lead to chronic leg ulcers and gangrene. Nerve damage in the legs can lead to excruciating pain. It can also cause kidney damage, which can eventually lead to kidney failure.
The food you eat is converted to glucose. The glucose is converted to energy by a hormone, insulin, which can lead to one feeling hungry.
Diabetics do not have insulin or enough of it so the glucose in the body is not burned up. This unused glucose, raises the blood sugar level. This high level of glucose is pushed through the kidneys. The glucose in the urine leads to severe loss of fluid.
The treatment involves first checking how bad your diabetes is.
Eat a diet low in carbohydrates and low in fats. Cut out the intake of bread, cereals, pastas, rice, cakes, puddings, fizzy drinks and all juices. Try to lose weight — losing just 10 to 15% of your weight can help.
Eat meat, vegetables and a small portion of fruits daily. Eat plain yoghurt instead of sweetened yoghurt.
Exercise is one of the best tools to combat diabetes. A brisk 30-minute walk is needed every day.
People who are diagnosed early and treated correctly, can avoid the complications of diabetes and lead absolutely normal lives.