Diabetes is a silent killer, a disease that may show no symptoms until it is too late.
The latest figures from the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) make for grim reading. In the 20 to 79 age group roughly 425 million people worldwide are diabetic. By 2045 this is predicted to rise by 48% to 629 million.
More disturbing still, one in two people with diabetes are not diagnosed. That is 212 million people who do not know they have the disease.
According to the World Atlas, the Marshall Islands have the highest rate of diabetes in the world at 30.5% of its population.
Seven out of the remaining nine spots in this non-enviable top-ten ranking are also given to Pacific island nations. Mauritius, located in the Indian Ocean, comes in 7th, and last is Saudi Arabia with 17.7% of its population suffering from the disease.
So good news for Asian countries? Not quite. In Southeast Asia four countries are also in the double-digit percentage range.
Papua New Guinea matches Saudi Arabia at 17.7%, closely followed by Malaysia at 16.7%, then Brunei (12.8%) and Singapore (11%).
Further west, 10.7% of Sri Lankans live with diabetes, Indians 10.4%, while Bangladesh and Pakistan are closely matched with 8.4% and 8.3% respectively.
The lowest rates occur in Myanmar (4.6%), Cambodia and Laos, both 4.0%. The middle ground rises from Japan’s 5.7% to China’s 7.9%, with Thailand, the Philippines and Timor L’Este sharing the 7% mark.
Types and Symptoms
As the IDF information pages state, there is no such thing as ‘mild diabetes’. There are two main types of diabetes:
People with type 1 diabetes produce little or no insulin. While it usually develops in childhood or adolescence, it can affect people of any age. It occurs because the body’s defence system malfunctions and attacks the cells that produce insulin. The exact cause is not entirely understood.
Abnormal thirst and dry mouth Constant hunger
Frequent urination Blurred vision
Lack of energy, fatigue Sudden weight loss
Roughly 90% of diabetics have type 2. Often associated with being overweight or obese, although not exclusively so, it may go undetected for many years.
Insulin resistance and relative insulin deficiency are characteristics of type 2, which can lead to high levels of glucose in the blood. Exercise and diet can control type 2, but medication is eventually necessary.
Excessive thirst and dry mouth Tingling or numbness in hands or feet
Frequent and abundant urination Recurrent fungal infections on the skin
Lack of energy, extreme tiredness Slow healing wounds
During one in 25 pregnancies a third type of diabetes occurs, when blood glucose levels increase. Known as gestational diabetes, it lasts only during pregnancy. However, both mother and child have a greater chance of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
Are You at Risk?
Ethnicity, not something we can alter, is listed as a factor in developing type 2 diabetes. Nor can we change our family history of diabetes or prevent the ageing process.
Similarly, we had no control over gestational diabetes or the quality of our mothers’ diets while we were in the womb. All of these are factors that contribute to the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
There are, however, some environmental factors that we can control and thereby reduce our risk of diabetes.
One of the two major improvements we can make in our lives is following a healthy diet. Delicious as the sugar-packed kueh may be, they are adding to an unseen timebomb in your body.
Taking regular exercise, which for many is a bore, will go a long way to keeping your weight in check and hopefully your blood pressure at a healthy level.
If you are in the 18 to 39 age range, you can assess your risk of diabetes through Singapore’s Health Hub online questionnaire. Anyone above 40 should see their doctor, however.
Whether or not your assessments show you are at risk, we should all consider healthy eating and exercise as saving for our future needs and building up our future health investments beginning right now.