The population of Bahrain suffers from one of the highest prevalence rates of diabetes in the world. Talk to any medical professional in the kingdom and they’ll tell you it is one of the most pressing health issue the country faces. Currently around 15 per cent of the population suffer from diabetes, with the illness causing five percent of deaths in Bahrain. Yet, thanks to the symptoms being so various and relatively difficult to self-diagnose, up to half of those suffering don’t even know they’ve got it. We caught up with the medical director of the Gulf Diabetes Specialist Centre in Bahrain Dr Wiam Hussein to find out what diabetes is, and how to prevent it.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a metabolic disease which is caused by abnormal insulin secretion that regulates glucose use by the cell for energy. The result is a high glucose in the blood leading to damage to the blood vessels supplying main organs and tissues like the kidney, eye, nerves and the heart.
There are two major types of diabetes. In Type 1 (formerly called juvenile-onset or insulin-dependent) diabetes, the body completely stops producing any insulin. People with Type 1 diabetes must take daily insulin injections to survive. This form of diabetes usually develops in children or young adults, but can occur at any age and it is genetically predetermined. Type 2 (formerly called adult-onset or non insulin-dependent) diabetes results when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin and/or is unable to use insulin properly. This form of diabetes usually occurs in people who are older, overweight, and have a family history of diabetes, although today it is increasingly occurring in younger people, particularly adolescents. It is a disease of lifestyle associated with the obesity epidemic.
Why is it so prevalent in Bahrain?
According to the International Diabetes Federation, five countries among the six highest diabetes prevalence rates in the world are Gulf States countries, including Bahrain which is ranked the fifth. The seriousness of the problem is that 50 percent of cases are unaware that they have the disease but even those diagnosed with diabetes are identified after years of the disease with no symptoms. This is a silent disease and most patients have no symptoms and this underscores the need for early screening for those at risk of the disease. It is estimated that diabetes prevalence will increase by more than two fold in Bahrain in the next two decades.
What basic steps can people take to avoid getting diabetes?
Firstly, there are certain parts of the population that need to know they are at risk of having diabetes. Those at risk include people who:
• Have a family history of diabetes
• Are overweight or obese
• Habitually do no physical activity
• Suffer from hypertension
• Have hyperlipidemia, low HDL cholesterol or high triglyceride
• Have a history of gestational diabetes or have delivered a baby that weighed less than 4 kg
• Had previously been identified as having abnormal glucose levels, but not at the diabetes threshold (pre-diabetes)
• Suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome
• Are in a high risk ethnic or racial group
A number of studies have demonstrated that the prevalence of diabetes can be significantly reduced if certain lifestyle changes are imposed. A lack of exercise appears to be one of the major contributors to the disease, and so by taking regular exercise, studies have shown that you can cut your chances of getting the disease by as much as half. As important is your diet. Eating large quantities of fat and sugar puts you at risk of getting the disease. Although there are drugs that can reduce the risk of getting diabetes, it is as much about instilling preventative measure in your lifestyle as treating symptoms of the disease.
So what are the symptoms?
People with diabetes frequently experience certain symptoms. These include:
• being very thirsty
• frequent urination
• weight loss
• increased hunger
• blurry vision
• tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
• frequent skin, bladder or gum infections
• wounds that don’t heal
• extreme unexplained fatigue
In some cases, there are no symptoms — this happens at times with Type 2 diabetes. In this case, people can live for months, even years without knowing they have the disease. This form of diabetes comes on so gradually that symptoms may not even be recognised.
What should be people who think they might have the disease do?
Make an appointment at the Gulf Diabetes Specialist Centre by calling 17 239 239 or visiting www.gulfdiabetes.com