With World Diabetes Day on 14 November, Life Fourways Hospital is focusing on diabetes awareness and education this month. Dr Ravi Govender, one of our healthcare partner’s shares some insights on diabetes, including his personal experience with the condition.

To help community members manage their health, Life Fourways Hospital in partnership with the Heart and Stroke Foundation will be offering free health screenings on

Thursday 14 November 2019 from 9am – 3pm in the hospital reception area.

Health screenings include:

Glucose testing

Blood pressure testing

BMI Testing (weight, height and waist measurements)

Cholesterol testing

Taking Diabetes Personally by Dr R. G. Govender

Known as “the silent killer”, diabetes affects the lives of many South Africans. It has no race, colour, creed, and sexual orientation. It has no gender profile. It does not discriminate.

The statistics? Diabetes impacts 6% of the South African population, a large majority being Indian and black South Africans, and although it seems like a small statistic, approximately 3.5 million people are affected by this life-altering disease.

I am one of them.

We hear about diabetes all the time, but it never seems to be spoken about openly and honestly. But it’s time to get real. I’m taking it personally, and I think you should too. Here’s why.

Taking it personally

We all have a story about how our family members suffered heart attacks and kidney disease, but we forget that the cause, in a lot of cases, was diabetes to begin with.

My father was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 20. He lived another 50 years, however the manifestations of the impact of the diabetes played itself out like a text book: the cardiac disease and bypass surgery, renal failure that led to renal dialysis for five years, and non-settling lower limb pain, to mention a few.

The most brutal by far was the blindness. As a former English teacher and principal, his love of reading was completely taken away before the age of 68. His loss of his sight impacted him terribly and it was debilitating to watch unfold. My father’s independence and intellect defined who he was.

Today, I am lucky enough to still have my 81-year-old mother, however she is currently suffering a similar fate. Having survived two strokes due to hypertension, she also lives with kidney disease. Renal dialysis three times a week has become her life.

The point? If not regularly monitored and treated appropriately, this disease can take away the fabric of living. It can quietly minimise your dignity and everything that defines you as a human being by removing your freedom from living a full and functional life.

It is also clear that while it is a medical condition, it is also an emotionally traumatic one. The disease is an even more personal to me because I know that my children may have to watch this disease affect me too someday.

So what can we do to educate ourselves and take this disease more seriously? Here is (almost) everything you need to know.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is an incurable disease in which the body’s ability to produce or respond to the hormone insulin is impaired. This results in an abnormal metabolism of carbohydrates and elevated levels of glucose in the blood stream.

Briefly as a way of a breakdown, glucose is a simple sugar and an important energy source needed by all cells and organs of our bodies. Glucose comes from various foods we eat, such as fruit, bread, pasta, and cereals, to name a few. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that then allows your body to use the carbohydrates it receives from food sources to act as a regulator for the carbohydrates. It prevents your blood sugar levels from becoming too high or too low.

Diabetic patients, however, cannot produce insulin adequately enough, and this has many results. Below are the most common, but this is not a closed list:

Frequent thirst
Tiredness (especially after eating carbohydrate-heavy foods)
Frequent urination
Unexplained weight loss
Dry and itchy shin
Visual changes and impairment
Slow healing of wounds
Sexual health impairment
Numbness of hands and feet

These are just some of the warning signs.

So what should we do?

The importance of awareness and acceptance of the gravity of the disease is paramount. It is the first step to any kind of change. With more awareness and education, we can then exercise empathy and provide the much needed emotional support for the diabetic patient.

The knock-on effect from here then creates a powerful ripple effect of change in mindset and lifestyle. The hopeis that it ends in breaking the cycle of this disease.

Regular exercise and a low-GI diet are great ways to manage the disease, as a diabetic patient, or preventatively. Making your health a priority and making clear lifestyle changes may keep the disease at bay, even temporarily. Less alcohol intake, not smoking, and staying away from refined carbohydrates are also worthy choices to consider.

Any family history of diabetes must be taken seriously, and regular medical checks with your family practitioner is imperative to early detection and action. I urge you to act in response to this disease for yourself and those around you by making better lifestyle choices to prevent diabetes. Prevention goes a long way to an incurable disease.

Let’s be proactive. Let’s be preventative.

Read our article on gestational diabetes here:

https://www.lifehealthcare.co.za/news-and-info-hub/latest-news/what-is-gestational-diabetes/

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