Ask the doctor: 11 common questions on diabetes answered
Published on 13 September 2023
What causes diabetes? How to prevent it? Is there a cure? Read on to find out as Adj Asst Prof Kurumbian sheds light on FAQ about diabetes.
While diabetes is one of the most common ailments in Singapore, many remain unaware of its dangers, and the necessary measures to prevent it.
Indeed, 34% of young adults aged between 24 and 35 are expected to develop diabetes by the time they turn 65. Additionally, 35% of individuals with pre-diabetes are likely to progress to Type 2 diabetes.
Adj Asst Prof Kurumbian Chandran, Head of Division & Senior Consultant, Division of Endocrinology, Department of Medicine, Ng Teng Fong General Hospital (NTFGH), explains all you need to know about diabetes, so you can better prevent and manage the disease.
Q1: What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a state of high blood sugar. This can happen when the body is unable to produce adequate amounts of insulin, or when it becomes resistant to insulin. Insulin is a hormone – secreted by the pancreas – that is responsible for moving sugar from the blood into the cells for energy conversion.
There are two main types of diabetes – Type 1 and Type 2.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body is unable to produce insulin. This condition is usually diagnosed during childhood or young adulthood.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when cells become insulin resistant. When that happens, the body’s insulin is unable to work as well as it should, resulting in high blood sugar.
Q2: What are some common signs of diabetes to look out for?
When left undiagnosed and untreated, diabetes can lead to a significant rise in blood sugar levels, which may be potentially dangerous.
As a consequence, various symptoms that affects a person’s overall health may manifest. This includes persistent fatigue, unexplained weight loss, excessive thirst and urination, heightened hunger or cravings, delayed wound healing, and increased susceptibility to infections.
Q3: How does pre-diabetes vary from diabetes?
Before diabetes becomes full-blown, there is a window period when one is still only in the pre-diabetes phase. This is when a person’s blood sugar is slightly high, and not yet in the diabetes range. Without intervention, pre-diabetes can progress to full-blown diabetes in 10 years or less.
Q4: Who is at risk of diabetes?
You may have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes if you have any of the following:
Family history of diabetes
Age of 40 years and above
Body Mass Index (BMI) of 23 or higher
High blood pressure
High cholesterol level
History of gestational diabetes (diabetes occurring only during pregnancy)
Impaired glucose tolerance and/or impaired fasting glucose
Q5: Is diabetes caused by eating and drinking too much sugary drinks and food?
Consuming too much of a high-calorie diet, including sugary food and drink, can significantly contribute to obesity, which is a major cause of insulin resistance.
The consumption of excess sugar places the pancreas under tremendous stress, as it struggles to produce sufficient insulin to counteract the spikes in blood sugar levels.
Over time, this prolonged stress may lead to the exhaustion of the pancreas, resulting in lower insulin levels. Then, the body's ability to regulate blood sugar effectively becomes compromised, leading to diabetes and other related health complications.
Q6: Is diabetes reversible?
Although there is currently no cure for diabetes, adhering to a healthy lifestyle, along with regular health check-ups and medication compliance, can keep diabetes under control, and prevent complications from arising.
For some individuals with severe obesity and diabetes, bariatric surgery has shown promising results in diabetes remission. This surgical procedure, which helps with weight loss and metabolic changes, can lead to a significant improvement in diabetes and even the reversal of diabetes in certain cases.
Q7: What is the link between obesity and diabetes?
The accumulation of excess fat in the body contributes to cellular resistance to insulin. As a result, individuals who are obese face a significantly higher risk of Type 2 diabetes, which is three to seven times greater than that of non-obese individuals.
Q8: What lifestyle changes can one make to prevent and manage diabetes better?
Beyond keeping an ideal weight, eating healthy and at the right time can help in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.
Try to avoid consuming a diet rich in highly-processed food (eg. chips,sausages, ham, canned food etc.), as they too, can cause weight gain and increase the risk of diabetes.
Exercising daily is another lifestyle habit that is significant in preventing and managing diabetes. Being active helps you burn calories, and prevents excess weight gain. In general, doing physical activity 30 minutes a day, five times a week, should help to keep your blood sugar level in control.
Q9: What are some foods to avoid for diabetes?
Patients don’t necessarily have to avoid any one type of food completely. We believe they should still be able to enjoy a variety of food.
What’s more important, however, is to apply portion control over sugary and high-caloric foods and drinks, as well as to exercise regularly to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Q10: What are other health complications that can arise from diabetes?
Poorly controlled diabetes may cause complications that affect several organs in your body, leading to health issues such as nerve damage, blindness, heart and blood vessel diseases, stroke, kidney failure, and amputations.
Q11: How often should one get tested for diabetes?
According to our local screening guidelines, it is recommended that an adult should undergo health screening every one to three years according to their risk profile. This should include screening for high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and kidney disease.