The Dangers of Undiagnosed Type 2 Diabetes
1 in 20 New Zealanders has diabetes, however a lot of these people don’t know it. Hundreds of people go undiagnosed every year; could you be one of them? Keep reading to see if you are at risk.
Am I at risk for Type 2 Diabetes?
Some people are at higher risk than others for developing type 2 diabetes, and the reasons for these risks are often out of people’s control.
Risk factors can include:
- Having prediabetes (where your blood sugar is abnormally high, but not high enough to be considered diabetes)
- Being overweight (especially if the measurement around your waist is 100 cm or greater if you’re a man and 90 cm or greater for a woman)
- Being of Māori, Asian, Middle Eastern or Pacific Island descent
- Being physically inactive
- Age 45 years or older
- Having a parent, brother, or sister with type 2 diabetes
- Having high blood pressure
- Having a diet rich in fat and sugar and low fruit and vegetable content
For women there are additional risk factors:
- Having, or have had, gestational diabetes (diabetes developed while pregnant) or gave birth to a baby of more than 4kg
- Having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
However, those who are at risk because of one or more of these factors have the ability to reduce this risk and prevent or slow down the development of type 2 diabetes. If you are concerned over your risk, being mindful of these factors, keeping an eye on your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol can be helpful, as can recording your symptoms.
You can lower your personal risk of developing type 2 diabetes through proven lifestyle changes such as introducing healthier foods into your diet and taking part in physical activity consistently. If you are unsure of how to begin a preventative diet or exercise plan, connect with your GP and ask for their help in constructing a sustainable and effective way for you to manage your health.
In order to evaluate your risk, you can use this tool created by Diabetes Australia:https://www.diabetesaustralia.com.au/risk-calculator. It will ask you a series of questions about yourself, including your ethnicity, age, height and weight, to estimate your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This is not a diagnosis, but a useful tool to help you better understand your risk and make plans around this.
Common symptoms of type 2 diabetes
Numbness – An increase in blood sugar levels can cause a decrease in blood flow to the hands and feet causing numbness and tingling in the extremities; this can lead to damage of the nerve fibres.
Increased urination – The kidneys are working hard to flush the extra glucose out of the blood stream and into the urine; watch out for increased need to pee.
Thirst – As the kidneys excrete the glucose into the urine, fluids are also taken from your tissues; this leads to dehydration and increased thirst.
Weight loss and increased hunger - As the body cannot absorb glucose properly for energy, it will use fat and muscle as a source of energy; this can cause weight loss and increased hunger. If you notice you have lost weight and cannot think why, get yourself tested.
Blurry vision – Is your vision blurry? Your vision can be a sign you have diabetes. High blood sugar can cause the lens inside the eye to swell and change the shape of the eyeball; this can lead to blurry vision. Diabetes can also cause damage to the tiny blood vessels that supply the retina, causing retinopathy and that can lead to blindness if left untreated.
Itchy dry skin – High blood glucose can cause visible signs on your skin, including fungal infections and dehydrated, dry flaky skin. High blood glucose over a period of time can limit your blood flow, reducing the healthy nutrients and oxygen getting to the skin and giving it what it needs to heal and regenerate each day.
Slow healing cuts or bruises – with or without infection.
Fatigue – a tiredness that just won’t go away.
Irritated gums – Often picked up by a Dentist. High blood glucose levels can cause your gums to become red, swollen, and irritated.
It is also important to be aware that some people may not experience any symptoms. As type 2 diabetes can develop slowly over time, you may not notice these changes in your body. The best way to monitor any changes is to get regular check-ups with your doctor if you are an at-risk person.
How to get tested for Type 2 Diabetes?
The best way to get tested for type 2 diabetes is to see your GP, explain that you would like to investigate whether you are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes and would like to arrange for an HbA1c test.
What is HbA1c? When the body processes sugar, glucose in the bloodstream naturally attaches to haemoglobin (making glycated haemoglobin) . The amount of glycated haemoglobin is directly related to the total amount of sugar that is in your system at that time. Measuring glycated haemoglobin (or HbA1c) provides an indication of blood glucose control. So, an HbA1c test is a good indicator of whether your blood sugar levels are normal, somewhat elevated (pre-diabetes), or in the diabetic range.
Depending on the result, after you have had the test your GP may want to see you again to discuss any issues and, where necessary, implement any treatment and/or lifestyle changes.
For those who face budgetary constraints, it is possible to go to a testing laboratory and pay for an HbA1c test. This is very much a second-best option as it is only a little cheaper than visiting your GP and you will only receive the test results and won’t have your GP’s expertise in interpreting what the results mean for you (although, obviously you can visit your GP once you have the test result). For self-requested tests in the Wellington region see this link: https://www.wellingtonscl.co.nz/for-patients/self-requested-testing/. Currently, a glycated haemoglobin test from Southern Community Laboratories is $46.50 (including GST and admin fee).
A third option is to have a casual blood glucose test and this is offered by some pharmacies. Note that this is only a measure of your blood glucose at a point in time and is inferior to the HbA1c test. However, if a casual blood glucose test shows abnormally high sugar levels then that is a strong indication to investigate further with your GP or healthcare provider. You can either get in touch with your community pharmacy to see if they offer blood glucose tests or go to this link to find a pharmacy near you that offers this service: https://www.greencrosshealth.co.nz/store-list?service=13.
Please note that it is best to phone the pharmacy first before visiting in person.
Most importantly you are not alone, if you have any questions or are unsure about anything you have read, please get in touch with us. Come into our Drop-In Centre on Level 1, Anvil House, 138 Wakefield Street, Wellington, phone 04 499 5085 or email firstname.lastname@example.org – we are here for you.