Heart on your sleeve: Diabetes is a silent disease

Get checked: Diabetes often does not cause any symptoms. In some cases diabetics may complain of thirst or passing excessive urine.
Get checked: Diabetes often does not cause any symptoms. In some cases diabetics may complain of thirst or passing excessive urine.

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It is estimated that 1.7 million Australians are living with diabetes. 

It’s also estimated that approximately 30% of these individuals are not aware of having the condition.

Diabetes often does not cause any symptoms which leads to it going undiagnosed in many.

Diabetes is a medical condition where the body is not able to maintain healthy glucose (sugar) levels in the bloodstream.

The hormone insulin, which helps cells take in glucose to be used for energy, is central to the disease.

Dr Daniel Robaei, a Staff Specialist Interventional Cardiologist and Lecturer at the University of New South Wales explained the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

“In type 1 diabetes there is a failure of the body to produce insulin, while in type 2 diabetes which is far more common the body’s cells are no longer able to respond adequately to insulin. Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes lead to elevated glucose levels in the bloodstream which has a wide range of adverse effects on multiple organs of the body.”

He explained that diabetes is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease and increases an individual’s risk of a heart attack or stroke by up to four times.

“It is the most common cause of kidney failure in Australia, and is a major cause of blindness. It can also result in the need for limb amputations.”

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Factors which increase the risk of diabetes include a family history of the condition, as well as being overweight and physically inactive.

Individuals who carry excessive weight around their abdomen (abdominal obesity) are at particularly high risk.

Dr Robaei said individuals can reduce their risk of developing diabetes by maintaining a healthy weight, as well as through at least 3 hours of moderate exercise per week. “Since diabetes is often not associated with any symptoms an annual blood test to check fasting sugar levels is advised to allow early diagnosis of the condition.”

Treatments that may help include lifestyle changes, as well as medications, in the form of tablets or less commonly, insulin injections, to help lower blood sugar levels.