Reader question:

Dear Dr Joe

I have recently been diagnosed with diabetes after my doctor received the results for my glucose tolerance test and other blood tests. I have a family history of Type 2 diabetes and I have been told that I will need to start medication if I don’t lose weight and start eating better. I am worried about what this all means for my health and how diabetes is going to change my life. What are your recommendations?

Thanks

Mel, WA

GP response:

Dr Joe Kosterich MBBS, General Practitioner and Editorial Advisory Board Member of the Virtual Medical Centre and Parenthub responds:Dr Joe

Diabetes is estimated to affect well over one million Australians. There are two types. In both the blood sugar (glucose) level is too high. If left untreated, diabetes can lead to disease of the heart, brain, eyes and kidneys to name a few.

In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not produce enough insulin. This generally is diagnosed in younger people and is thought to have a genetic cause, although there is no “diabetes gene”. Type 2 diabetes is where the body becomes “resistant” to the effects of insulin. This tends to develop later in life and while there are genetic factors, it is strongly correlated with diet and weight. Those who are obese and/or consume too much sugar are at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Insulin is the hormone (produced in the pancreas) which moves glucose out of the bloodstream and into the cells of the body. Type 1 diabetics will need lifelong insulin as their body does not produce it. Type 1 diabetics need to monitor their sugar with finger prick testing regularly.

Those with type 2 diabetes initially may be managed with lifestyle changes or medication. Getting to a healthy weight, reducing intake of processed carbohydrates (sugars) and doing regular exercise helps lower blood sugar. For some this will be all they need to do. Others may need to take oral medication to control their blood sugar levels. There are numerous options and sometimes more than one medication is needed. In some instances those with type 2 diabetes are placed on insulin injections. Your doctor will advise you on how regularly you should monitor you blood sugar levels with finger prick testing.

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In summary, my tips for someone with a new diagnosis of type 2 diabetes are:

  • Firstly look at your diet and likely changes to your diet. Seeing a dietician can help.
  • Weight loss (if overweight) and regular exercise are important.
  • Depending on your blood sugar levels, medication may be needed.
  • It is important to see your GP as advised. This is more frequent in the early stages.

With good diabetic management the chances of complications like kidney disease, stroke and heart attack can be significantly reduced. Notwithstanding the need to manage the condition, those with diabetes can (and do) live a normal life.

More information

View a video of Dr Joe talking about managing diabetes.
doctor patient For more information on the different types of diabetes, current treatment options and how to test your blood sugar levels, visit Diabetes.
veggies and fruit For more information on diet and healthy food choices, visit Diets and Healthy Food Choices.
BMI For more information on what is a healthy weight and working out your BMI, visit body mass index (BMI)