Diabetes and family: Communication is key

Diabetes is a lifelong disease. Diabetes can be frustrating and emotionally distressing to the patient. Once a patient is diagnosed with diabetes, family support and help is crucial to help with lifelong diabetes management

Each year November 14 is celebrated as “World Diabetes Day” to raise awareness about diabetes. This year the theme is “Diabetes concerns every family”. Living with diabetes is not easy and can be emotionally and financially distressing to the patients and their family members. When a patient is diagnosed with diabetes, family support is essential. Diabetes education should be provided to immediate family members so that they understand the disease well.

Family members should be willing to learn more about diabetes because with more understanding of diabetes, the better help they can provide. Family members should be sympathetic and understanding especially if diabetes has been recently diagnosed. Diabetes management can be frustrating to the patient so family members should be kind and open to communication.

Family members should make healthy life choices as well. Making simple lifestyle changes, for example, eating healthy home cooked meals and avoiding junk food such as momo, potato chips and soft drinks among others can significantly help.

Exercise is a fundamental part of diabetes management. So, immediate family members should follow the same fitness plan and participate in physical activities such as jogging, brisk walking, swimming, dancing and so on.

Physical activity becomes a habit and easier when done together. Family members should be encouraging and help in problem-solving instead of blaming patient with diabetes.

This article talks about issues related to diabetes to help family members understand diabetes better.

Diabetes is a chronic disease that can affect persons of any ethnicity, background and country. Diabetes is a condition of high blood sugar that can ultimately lead to long-term complications.

Worldwide there are 415 million people living with diabetes. According to the data provided by the international diabetes federation, about 4 per cent of the Nepali population has diabetes. The increasing prevalence of diabetes in Nepal can be attributed to rapid urbanisation, growing consumption of junk food and sedentary lifestyle.

Timely diagnosis and management of diabetes can prevent or delay long-term complications associated with diabetes in many patients. People with diabetes are at two-four times higher risk of getting a heart attack compared to the non-diabetic population. Diabetes is also the leading cause of non-traumatic lower limb amputation. Diabetes can also lead to chronic complication of eye and kidney.

Diagnosis of diabetes does not require sophisticated tests and can be easily done with simple blood tests. The American Diabetes Association recommends any of the tests for the diagnosis of diabetes: fasting blood sugar, 75 gm 2 hour oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT), random blood sugar or Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c). Diagnosis of diabetes cannot be made based on symptoms or urine test alone.

Common symptoms of diabetes are: unexplained weight loss, blurry vision, increased urinary frequency, increased thirst, increased hunger, burning/ tingling sensation in legs, slow healing of wounds and so on. However, 50 per cent of patients of diabetes may not have any symptoms at all.

Screening for diabetes should be done in all adults who are at risk for diabetes irrespective of whether they have symptoms or not. Risk factors for diabetes are: having a family member or relative with diabetes, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, history of diabetes in pregnancy, history of hypertension, high cholesterol, pre-diabetes (borderline high blood sugar), etc.

Certain conditions such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOD) also increases the risk for diabetes in people with any of the risk factor for diabetes, so screening should be started at adolescence and repeated every year. In absence of risk factors, screening can be started after 30 years of age.

Once diabetes is diagnosed, visiting an endocrinologist is mandatory.

A healthy diet is a part of diabetes management and dietitian counselling should be provided to all diabetic patients. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle by daily exercise, minimising stress level, refraining from alcohol, smoking and junk food, avoiding a sedentary lifestyle should be part of diabetes management. A regular follow-up, blood sugar monitoring and timely intake of medicines will help in the good control of blood sugar.

In summary, diabetes is a lifelong disease. Diabetes can be frustrating and emotionally distressing to the patient. Once a patient is diagnosed with diabetes, family support and help is crucial to help with lifelong diabetes management. With family support, correct treatment and good lifestyle change people with diabetes can lead a long, healthy life.

With the prevalence of diabetes is increasing across the globe, diabetes has become a modern epidemic. We also need to understand that diabetes covers a wide range of conditions such as diabetes mellitus, type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, diabetes insipidus and gestational diabetes.

Yonzon is an endocrinologist