Types, Causes & Symptoms of ‘Sugar’ Diabetes

Diabetes, commonly referred to as ‘sugar’ or ‘sugar diabetes’, is a disorder characterized by fluctuations in the blood glucose (sugar) level often resulting in elevated (high) ‘sugar’ levels. Diabetes mellitus is often considered to be a disorder caused by both lifestyle and genetic factors and is a growing problem in South Africa.

The rapidly increasing middle class in South Africa means that more South Africans now indulge in fast foods and convenience meals laden with high GI (glycemic or glycaemic index) foods like refined sugar, wheat and flour products and related items. Together with obesity, this diet and a lack of exercise may significantly contribute to diabetes.

Diabetes is disorder associated with the production of insulin, a hormone manufactured and secreted by the pancreas (gland). Insulin controls the blood sugar levels preventing it from spiking by ‘removing’ excess glucose in the blood when levels are elevated. Glucose is converted to glycogen and stored in the liver or taken up by the body’s cells thereby removing it from the blood. A lack of insulin, reduced/impaired insulin production or insulin intolerance (where the body’s cells do not respond to insulin) causes high glucose levels and this syndrome is known as diabetes.

Types of ‘Sugar’ Diabetes

There are two types of diabetes :

  1. Juvenile diabetes (Type I)
  2. Adult onset diabetes (Type II)

Diabetes may occur during pregnancy (gestational diabetes) but this often resolves after child birth.

Causes of ‘Sugar’ Diabetes

There may be a number of yet unknown causes of diabetes as recent studies indicate that juvenile diabetes may be caused by viral infections in early childhood. However widely known causes of diabetes include :

  • Obesity
  • Genetic (familial) factors
  • Diets rich in high GI foods and poor eating habits (although this may be related to obesity)
  • Certain drugs
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Pregnancy (gestational diabetes)

Symptoms of Diabetes

  • Frequent thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Sudden changes in body weight (especially weight loss)
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Poor healing of wounds
  • Blurred vision
  • Numbness of hands and feet
  • Difficulty getting or maintaining a penile erection

Diagnosis of ‘Sugar’ Diabetes’

Diagnosis is primarily dependent on a glucose tolerance test (GTT). Your blood sugar level is recorded on an ’empty stomach’, a glucose solution is then administered orally and readings are taken at 1 hour and 2 hours after drinking the measured glucose solution.

A healthy blood glucose tolerance will not exceed 7.8 mmol/litre. Between 7.8 mmol/litre and 11 mmol/litre indicates impaired glucose tolerance and a reading above 11 mmol/litre is indicative of diabetes.

A finger-prick (droplet) blood test on a home glucose monitor device is useful for monitoring glucose levels, the effect of certain foods on your ‘sugar’ levels or the effectiveness of your diabetes medication (either tablets or insulin). However a diagnosis of diabetes should not be confirmed with a finger-prick blood test unless other investigative techniques are not available.

Prevention of Diabetes

Unfortunately in South Africa, many cases of diabetes go undiagnosed due to ignorance about the disease. Diabetes can be prevented or delayed (adult onset diabetes), effectively treated or conservatively managed in some cases with simple measures like diet and exercise.

Impaired glucose tolerance is a transient stage between normal blood glucose tolerance and diabetes in before the onset of type II diabetes. Identifying impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) is important to the possible delay or prevention of the onset of diabetes. Changing your dietary habits, losing excess body weight and starting an exercise program may shift you out of the impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) stage and delay the onset of diabetes.

If you are at risk of developing diabetes due to one of the possible causative factors, it is advisable to immediately change your diet and lifestyle and you may be able to delay the onset of diabetes if not avoid it altogether. Always consult with your doctor if you suspect that you are at risk of diabetes or may be experiencing any of the symptoms of diabetes.