415 million adults were living with diabetes in 2015. This horrifying statistic illustrates the extent to which the disease has become a growing problem worldwide.
With the projection that this figure is expected to increase to around 642 million, or 1 in 10 adults, by 2040, there has never been a more significant time to focus on the importance of screening, early diagnosis and treatment. Caught early, the course of type 2 diabetes can be modified to reduce the risk of complications, and for all types of diabetes, screening for complications, when it forms part of the ongoing management of the disease, is essential.
Which brings us neatly to World Diabetes Day for 2016, which fell on 14th November. World Diabetes Day is celebrated annually, led by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF). It aims to raise awareness of diabetes as a critical global health issue. The IDF aims to highlight, and be the driver of, coordinated action worldwide to confront the spread of the disease.
So what is diabetes?
Diabetes is a lifelong condition that causes a person’s blood sugar level to become too high. Blood sugar is controlled by a hormone called insulin, which is produced by the pancreas. In people who have diabetes, the normal functioning of insulin in regulating blood sugar is impeded. There are two main types:
- Type 1 diabetes, where the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin. Type 1 diabetes can only be controlled through daily injections of insulin; and
- Type 2 diabetes, where the body doesn’t produce enough insulin, or where the body’s cells don’t react to insulin. Type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition, and although it may initially be controlled through diet, medication may eventually be required, usually in the form of tablets.
What are the complications of diabetes?
Perhaps the real dangers of diabetes are the consequential ones. Either type of diabetes, if undiagnosed or unmonitored, can cause significant disablement, and even death.
Diabetes can cause cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, lower limb amputations, vision impairment and blindness. According to the IDF, global health spending to treat diabetes and manage complications was estimated at USD 673 billion in 2015.
A truly worrying statistic is that one in two adults with diabetes live with the condition undiagnosed. By the time they are diagnosed, diabetes complications may already be present.
So what can be done?
Primarily, there is a need to raise awareness of what can cause, and contribute to, the condition, and then to ensure that it is managed through adequate screening and monitoring. Early detection and treatment, worldwide, can reduce the impact of diabetes on individuals, their carers, and on society.
There are signs, too, that research may be going some way towards helping those with Type 1 diabetes to manage their condition.
Dr Frank Waldron-Lynch, senior clinical trials fellow and academic consultant in the Division of Experimental Medicine and Immunotherapeutics at Cambridge University, is aiming to develop new treatments which will reduce the number of times sufferers have to inject insulin daily. He said, “Our work is at an early stage, however if it continues to be successful the new treatment would be a significant advance on the current treatment available.”