Behind the Headlines - 1 in 10 over 40's has diabetes

Diabetes

We delve a little further into a recent Telegraph news article revealing that 1 in 10 over 40’s in the UK now has diabetes. 

07/03/2019


Emily Condon
BSc (Hons) Biological Sciences

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Diabetes has been a hot topic in the news lately with a recent Telegraph article revealing that 1 in 10 over 40’s in the UK now has diabetes [1], and the number of people suffering the condition has doubled within two decades. There are around 3.8 million people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK – an increase of 1.9 million since 1998, the figures show. According to Diabetes UK, more people than ever are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. If nothing changes, more than five million people will have diabetes in the UK by 2025 [2]. The charity also estimates that 12.3 million people in the UK are currently at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition where the body has trouble controlling blood sugar levels. When your sugar levels are too high it can cause a whole host of serious problems, ranging from problems with your sight and extremities as well as increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Diabetes is currently one of the biggest health issues in the UK. Ideally, it is best to prevent it from ever happening in the first place. 

There are two main types of diabetes, type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks the pancreas and destroys cells that produce insulin. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes and occurs when the insulin produced by the body is not enough for the body's needs or the body's cells are resistant to it. Insulin resistance, or lack of sensitivity to insulin, happens primarily in fat, liver, and muscle cells. Symptoms of diabetes include frequent urination, extreme thirst, fatigue and unexplained weight loss. For many, a diabetes diagnosis can go undetected for many years, with one in three cases not diagnosed until they have developed complications with their eyes, feet, kidneys or nerves [1].

Behind the Headlines 

The rise in those developing diabetes is thought to be largely driven by the increasing rates of obesity. Even though the exact cause of diabetes is still not fully understood, it is known that those who are overweight or obese have a much greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Those with diabetes have an increased risk of developing heart and circulatory diseases and the surge in type 2 diabetes cases could put thousands of people at risk of a heart attack or stroke. We asked our Medical Director Dr Sam Rodgers to explain why this is:

“High levels of glucose in the blood can damage the lining of the body’s blood vessels and cause them to narrow. If blood glucose remains at high levels for long periods of time, then blood vessels can narrow to the point where there isn’t enough blood flow to supply oxygen to the tissues of the body. In the case of the heart, this can lead to angina or heart attacks, whilst in the brain it can cause stroke and transient ischaemic attacks.”

Millions of type 2 diabetes cases could be prevented if more people are aware of and understood their risk and how to reduce it. Even though older age is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, it is never too early to know your risk so that you can make changes to prevent or delay it. Other risk factors include being obese or overweight, inactivity, a family history of diabetes and having high blood pressure.

Could I be at risk of developing diabetes?

If you are worried your lifestyle may be affecting your health, a Diabetes Check is the most effective way to test for diabetes. HbA1c is a longer-term measure of blood glucose levels compared to testing blood glucose alone. It provides a good indication of the level of sugar in your blood over a 2-3 month period. HbA1c is also ideal to track your blood sugar levels over time.

Pre-diabetes is the term used to describe the transition between not having diabetes and having it. If your HbA1c result is high, the good news is that you can reverse pre-diabetes and stop the development of diabetes through simple lifestyle measures such as reducing calories and eating a healthy balanced diet, cutting down on refined sugars, increasing your intake of fresh fruit and vegetables and exercising regularly as reported in a BBC article this week [3]. You can read more about reversing pre-diabetes here.


[1] Laura Donnelly (2019). One in 10 over 40's has diabetes, amid doubling in numbers with the condition. [online] The Telegraph. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/02/26/one-10-40s-has-diabetes-amid-doubling-numbers-condition/ [Accessed 5 Mar. 2019].

[2] UK, D., Figures, F., possible, Y. and possible, Y. (2019). Facts & Figures. [online] Diabetes UK. Available at: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/professionals/position-statements-reports/statistics [Accessed 5 Mar. 2019].

[3] BBC News. (2019). Low calories 'reversed type-2 diabetes'. [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-47456418 [Accessed 7 Mar. 2019].


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