Diabetes – the Black Plague?

It’s one of the biggest health problems facing our community. Make sure you have the facts.

It might feel like everywhere you turn people are banging on about diabetes, but the fact is, diabetes is still affecting more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people than other Australians.

A recent study by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has found that the rate of diabetes-related hospitalisation was seven times higher for Indigenous Australians than non-Indigenous Australians.

What exactly is diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus, or diabetes, is a chronic condition that can have a major impact on life expectancy and quality of life, especially if it’s undetected or poorly controlled. Medically speaking, it’s a disorder of carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism caused by a deficiency of insulin or a decreased ability of the body to used it. Insulin is a hormone produced by your pancreas that controls the levels of sugar in your blood.

There are three main forms of diabetes:

  • Type 1 – This type of diabetes appears mainly in children and young adults and requires lifelong treatment by insulin injections.
  • Type 2 – This type of diabetes appears mainly in the older population and can be treated with diet and exercise. Sometimes medicine, including insulin, is required to maintain blood sugar levels.
  • Gestational – This type of diabetes occurs during pregnancy and goes away after giving birth. Women with gestational diabetes are at a greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life.

Frightening figures
The biggest concern is the high rate of Type 2 diabetes among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Between 10 and 30 per cent of Indigenous Australians have Type 2 diabetes – about two to four times higher than the rate for non-Indigenous Australians. This is the fourth highest rate of Type 2 diabetes in the world.

The incidence of gestational diabetes is also two to three times higher among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women than in the general Australian population.

Risky business
According to AIHW, risk factors for Type 2 diabetes include:

  • Age
  • Low birth weight
  • Family history
  • Obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • Poor diet and nutrition
  • Poor living standards

If left untreated or not managed properly, Type 2 diabetes can cause a whole host of health problems, including:

  • Kidney failure – high blood sugar levels can damage the kidneys. Rates of kidney disease among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are also high.
  • Retinopathy – An eye disease which can cause blindness.
  • Neuropathy – damage to nerve fibres which can cause leg ulcers and lead to amputation
  • Coronary artery disease – a disease of the blood vessels that supply the heart muscle.

Diagnosis diabetes
Sometimes people are only diagnosed once they start developing some of the classic symptoms – intense thirst, hunger and increased urination. Sometimes diagnosis is not reached until the sufferer is dangerously ill or is in a coma.

The most common way to diagnose diabetes is by a blood sugar tests, taken as part of a routine check-up. If you don’t already see your doctor regularly, get to your nearest GP or AMS for a check-up today.

Did you Know?

Some facts about diabetes.

  • The name diabetes mellitus comes from the Greek words for “to flow through” and “sweet”. Greek doctors used to diagnose the condition by tasting patients’ urine!
  • Around 1 in 17 people around the world are diabetic. More than 1800 cases of diabetes are diagnosed everyday.
  • Vitamin D can help prevent diabetes. You can find vitamin D in cod liver oil (yuck!), fish such as salmon and tuna, egg yolk, liver and vitamin D fortified milk.
  • India has the largest number of diabetics in the world – more than 10 million.
  • By 2025, it’s estimated that 300 million people worldwide will have diabetes.
  • The best way to make sure you don’t develop Type 2 diabetes? Eat a healthy, balanced diet, exercise regularly, and see your doctor for regular check-ups!

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