About 27,000 adults have been diagnosed with diabetes in The Bahamas, according to Nurse Anita Cates, who is a part of ACE Diabetes.
That translates to about nine percent of the adult population in The Bahamas (290,000).
However, she said the scarier part is the number of Bahamians walking around with diabetes who have no idea that they have the chronic disease.
Cates, along with Dario Charlton, who is living with type 1 diabetes, appeared as guests on Guardian Radio show, ‘Morning Blend’, with host Dwight Strachan, to bring awareness to the disease that can cause a wide range of health issues.
“There is also pre-diabetes,” Cates said yesterday on World Diabetes Day.
“This is a condition that you get before you get type 2 and even type 1 diabetes that we might not even know about. I actually think the numbers are probably much, much higher than what we think.”
The main difference between the two types of diabetes is that type 1 is a genetic disorder that often shows up early in life, and type 2 is largely diet-related and develops over time.
Charlton was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2005 at the age of 19.
“I lost a lot of weight, about 30 pounds over the course of about two months,” he said.
Another telltale sign: frequent urination.
Charlton said he was using the restroom up to eight times an hour.
He was also constantly thirsty.
“I mean, I was drinking everything in sight and thinking, ‘maybe I should l drink beers because I don’t drink, so maybe that’s what’s gonna quench my thirst’,” he said.
“It’s just the knowledge and understanding about diabetes wasn’t there.
“Thankfully, I had a close family member who had diabetes and recognized those symptoms and woke me up one morning and took me to get tested and my sugar was 550.”
Normal blood glucose (while fasting) ranges within 70 to 99 mg/dL. Higher ranges could indicate pre-diabetes or diabetes.
When blood sugar levels remain elevated for long periods, the blood vessels can become damaged and lead to complications of diabetes such as heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney damage and foot problems.
Charlton has been rendered legally blind.
“After my 17th year, I started to experience some floaters in my eyes,” he said. “That graduated to a level of night blindness. By the time I got the proper diagnosis, I was already experiencing proliferative diabetic retinopathy, meaning the nerves in the back of my eyes were damaged by irregular blood vessels that have grown.”
He said he is completely blind in his right eye, but can see some shapes, and movements in bright lights in his left eye. Eventually, he said he will lose sight completely.
“These days, after 4:30 p.m., I’m almost helpless,” the 37-year-old father said.
“I’m basically retired, living off government assistance. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas loses its ability to produce insulin,” said Dr. Kristine Parker-Curling, an internist. “When you eat and digest food, you absorb nutrients and sugars and they enter your circulation. It is the job of insulin to get the sugars out of your circulation and into your muscles and tissues where the sugar is used as fuel.”
She added, “In type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system ‘attacks’ the pancreas and causes inflammation and scarring of the pancreas and it eventually loses its ability to produce insulin. Because of this, blood sugar levels rise and can lead to symptoms including excessive thirst, excessive urination, weight loss, blurred vision and this usually leads to the diagnosis. Patients are generally diagnosed at a young age, even in childhood.”
Charlton, who has lived with diabetes for nearly 20 years, said he wants more people to live with their diabetes instead of suffering from it.
That’s a major part of the reason he takes part in educational campaigns.
Diabetes Month is recognized during November. This year’s theme is “Education to Protect Tomorrow”.
Cates also stressed the importance of diabetes education.
“Education is the backbone in the prevention and the management of diabetes and the prevention of complications,” she said. “So, there is this bright light at the end of the tunnel where you can actually make a difference and make yourself better by learning about diabetes.
“I actually saw some numbers the other day – diabetes management is 90 percent you, 10 percent your healthcare professional, but 90 percent is your self-care. I feel as though, if you don’t know how to take care of yourself, how are you going to make yourself better? Diabetes education is imperative for individuals, families and the country as a whole.”
Treatment of type 1 diabetes involves administration of insulin in a way that mimics what the pancreas would have done. Generally, insulin is administered via an injection or a continuous infusion just under the skin.
“Injectable insulin can be supplied in a vial and injected with a syringe, or it can be supplied and injected via a pen device. Insulin pumps administer insulin continuously and avoid the need for multiple daily injections,” Parker-Curling said.
The doctor said during treatment, patients should monitor their blood sugar to make sure that they are meeting their blood sugar goals. And that patients can use glucose monitors that monitor glucose from finger sticks or use continuous glucose monitors that give more detailed information about blood sugar numbers and patterns which avoids the need to stick their fingers.