Living well with type 2 diabetes

If you have type 2 diabetes, there are lots of people involved in your care – doctors, nurses, pharmacists and dieticians. But the most important person by far is the one you know best of all – you!

Type 2 Diabetes - why worry?

Isn't it funny how attitudes turn full circle? There are two main types of diabetes. The first, called type 1 diabetes, usually starts in childhood or youth and involves taking insulin from day one. You can't prevent it and it happens because your body stops being able to produce insulin. It's fundamentally different from the other type of diabetes, called type 2 diabetes. This condition tends to start later in life and can usually be managed with tablets and diet, at least for the first few years. It's usually down to a combination of your body not being able to process or respond to insulin properly and not producing enough insulin for your body's needs. Not surprising then that only 20 years ago, type 2 diabetes was known as 'the mild kind' of diabetes. In fact, I still remember patients referring to it as 'a touch of diabetes'.

But over the last few years it has become apparent that if you have type 2 diabetes, your risk of a heart attack or stroke is greatly increased. In fact, people with diabetes were found to be as likely to have a heart attack as somebody who had already had a heart attack or stroke. Suddenly, there was nothing 'mild' about type 2 diabetes. What's more, the number of people affected by type 2 diabetes is increasing at an alarming rate - there will probably be a million new people diagnosed in the next ten years alone.

Fortunately, medical advances have meant that if you have type 2 diabetes, you can cut your risks dramatically with lifestyle and medication. These days, type 2 diabetes doesn't need to be a death sentence - it can be the start of a whole new healthy living world.

If you have type 2 diabetes, there are lots of people involved in your care - doctors, nurses, pharmacists and dieticians. But the most important person by far is the one you know best of all - you!

Diet is everything

The expression 'you are what you eat' is even more true for people with diabetes - whether type 1 or type 2 - than without. If you have diabetes, you should be able to get a referral to a dietician through your GP. Take along a food diary of everything you've eaten for a week or two (no cheating, now!). That will help the dietician to tailor their advice so you can still eat some of the foods you love, as well as discovering new healthy options.

Make time for exercise

Exercise is good for your heart, your blood pressure, your joints and your energy levels. If you have diabetes, it also helps keep your blood sugar under control. So what are you waiting for? If you're scared that exercise means prancing round in Lycra® looking silly, don't be. Moderate exercise, like brisk walking or swimming, is perfect - as long as you do it regularly.

Weighing up the benefits

If you have type 2 diabetes, it's likely that you carry a bit too much weight - four out of five people diagnosed wtih type 2 diabetes are overweight. Fortunately, losing just 10% of your body weight when you have type 2 diabetes can cut your blood sugar levels by half - and help you to stave off complications.

Top to toe - look after your bits

Eyes - caring for your eyes starts with using them - to look up the number of your local optician in the phone book! Looking after your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol will all help you to avoid eye complications of diabetes. These can include retinopathy - damage to the retina (the inner surface of the back of the eye, that detects light) and cataract (clouding of the lens at the front of your eye). At least once a year, you need to have a full eye check from a doctor (including drops to dilate your pupils, so the doctor can see the back of your eyes properly). That means that any changes can be picked up and treated early.

Feet - people who have diabetes often get reduced sensation in their feet. This makes it easy for you to damage your feet without realising it. To avoid problems, keep your toenails trimmed (you should get priority referral to a chiropodist if you need it, if you have diabetes), shake your shoes out before you put them on, get shoes properly fitted and examine your feet every day for redness or sore-looking patches.

Diabetes - more than just the sugar

If you have diabetes, you'll almost certainly be on several medications. Some will keep your blood sugar down - but others will be to control your blood pressure and cholesterol, or to protect your kidneys. All these medicines are vital to keep you in good health. So if you're having side-effects, do talk to your doctor before you stop them.

Dr Sarah is unable to provide medical advice or respond directly to questions concerning your health. If you have health concerns we recommend contacting your GP.