Today, November 14, is World Diabetes Day. It is a chance to raise awareness of this serious and potentially life-threatening condition in which a person’s blood glucose level is too high.
It can happen when your body doesn’t produce enough insulin or the insulin it produces isn’t effective. Or, when your body can’t produce any insulin at all.
There are actually several variations, but the two main types of diabetes are type 1 and type 2. Those with type 1 diabetes can’t make any insulin at all and those with it require daily injections. Those with type 2 diabetes find the insulin they make either can’t work effectively, or they can’t produce enough of it. They’re different conditions, but they’re both serious.
Whichever variant you have, glucose can’t get into your cells properly, so it begins to build up in your blood. And too much glucose in your blood causes a lot of different problems. To begin with, it leads to diabetes symptoms.
The common symptoms include: going to the toilet a lot, especially at night; being really thirsty; feeling more tired than usual; losing weight without trying to; cuts and wounds taking longer to heal; and blurred vision. Anyone with any or all of those symptoms should go to their GP for a blood glucose test.
According to charity, Diabetes UK, it is estimated one in 15 people in the UK have the condition, including one million who have type 2 but haven’t been diagnosed.
For those with the condition, it can present challenges, but with the right help and support, it’s possible to lead full and active lives.
This is true for Sheldon Bosley Knight’s sales manager, Morgan Rhys. Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in March 2009 when he was just 13, he said it came as quite a shock.
“I was really ill for a number of weeks and lost a couple of stone in the process,” he explains. “I got to the stage where my body and especially my muscles where majorly aching, and I just felt tired all the time.
“When I eventually went to the GP, my blood levels were through the roof and was told I was close to going into a diabetic coma (hyperosmolar hyperglycaemic state).”
Thankfully he was rushed to hospital right away, diagnosed quickly and the medical team was able to lower his blood levels.
“I’m quite a calm person generally so have taken it on the chin,” he says. “I remember thinking at the time I just had to get on with it. Before Frederick Banting and his team discovered insulin back in the last century, most people in my position would have just passed away, so to be here now, with all the new data, research and technology they have, is just a mighty relief.”
He admits since the diagnosis it hasn’t always been plain sailing, but adjusting both his diet and his lifestyle have helped him manage it.
“When I was younger, I was really sporty, I played a lot of football and rugby, so diabetes affected that right away,” he says.
“I remember playing rugby at school once and having a low halfway through the match and was taken off. It really affected my motivation and confidence to carry on playing.
“As I approached my late teens and early 20s, I obviously went out with my friends, and had to be really cautious on how I approached this. But all my friends have been very supportive, so if there was ever a problem, there were people there to support me.”
And this has extended to the workplace where at SBK he’s welcomed the support of colleagues who have helped him during “frustrating moments”, as well as having educated some on the difference between insulin and glucose and the lows and highs a person with diabetes can experience.
He’s also been able to take advantage of advances in medical science which has helped him in his day job in particular.
“For the first 12 years, I used to check my blood sugars using a finger prick blood monitor,” he explains.
“Due to being out and about all the time in my car and on appointments, I had to check my levels at least 10 times a day, and overtime, I started to get frustrated with this.
“Last year, the NHS provided me with the FreeStyle Libre, which is inserted onto my arm and reads the blood levels 24/7. It is connected to my phone via Bluetooth and if my blood levels rise or lower, it sends a text to action it if there is a problem about to happen.
“This has changed my life so much and made things so much easier. But support from my colleagues has been important too. I know I can count on them if anything were to happen as they know what to look out for and that’s been incredibly important.”
He also says initiatives such as World Diabetes Days are so important to raise awareness of the condition and how it affects people.
“Type 1 and type 2 are the most common and well known but there are other variations and they are all very different so it’s important to see and understand the distinctions,” he says.
“There are also many different signs for people to look out for. When you are low – hypocalcaemia – in need of glucose – there are signs of sweating, irritability, lack of coordination, sleepiness, and hunger. But when you are high – hypercalcemia – in need of insulin – there tends to be signs of weakness, headaches, blurred vision, and an increased need for a drink.
“Since I was young, I’ve felt strangely embarrassed to talk about it, but now I do think it’s important to raise awareness as it affects so many people.
“I would say to anyone who has recently been diagnosed with the condition, it is something you should not be embarrassed about. For anyone worried they may have it, please go to your GP to get a test. It could save your life.”
Visit Diabetes UK for information, help and advice.