According to NHS statistics, 3.5 million Britons suffer from Type I or Type II diabetes. Many medical professionals are of the opinion that a further 500,000 people are currently undiagnosed with the condition.
But what is diabetes? What causes it and how is it treated? We caught up with Mark Sykes, a pharmacist with Weldricks, to find out more.
“Diabetes is on the increase here in the UK and there are two different types of the disease. Type I diabetes comes about when the body cannot produce insulin, a naturally occurring hormone produced by the pancreas that essentially keeps your blood sugar (glucose) from getting too high. Insulin helps us to get energy into or out of our cells so it’s vital to our health. Type I diabetes appears quite quickly and usually develops in childhood. It is treated via a daily injection of insulin to replace what the body should be doing.
“Type II diabetes, on the other hand, most commonly develops in people over the age of 40 who are overweight, don’t take regular exercise, smoke, consume too much alcohol or generally lead an unhealthy lifestyle. In this case, the body is able to produce insulin but it doesn’t make enough or the body can’t use it properly. Type II diabetes develops a lot slower and is often not diagnosed for several years.
“In 2014, 47 million diabetes-related prescription items were prescribed at total a cost of £849 million. Metformin, which is used to treat Type II diabetes, is the 11th most prescribed drug on the NHS and represents the 8th highest spend on a single drug. An incredible £174 million is spent every year on the paper strips used to test blood glucose levels, many of which are not even used by the patient. There’s no doubt that diabetes, particularly Type II diabetes which is actually preventable, is an expensive disease to treat.
“Anyone with diabetes must understand that it is a condition that needs to be managed very carefully. If a person’s blood sugar is too high, even moderately so, for too long it will start to damage the blood vessels, nerves and organs. Heart disease and stroke are often made more likely by too much glucose in the blood as is nerve damage which is why we place great importance on foot and oral care in particular.
“If the capillaries in a sufferer’s foot become damaged, the nerves are affected too which means the person is unable to register pain. If they were to get a blister, for example, they may not even notice and that can be a problem. Likewise, dry skin can be a real issue since it can lead to cracked and sore skin that becomes infected. If these sorts of infections go unnoticed and untreated for any length of time, the worst-case scenario is that the person’s foot or even leg has to be amputated.
“When it comes to oral care, people with Type II diabetes are three times more likely to have dental problems and those with Type I also have an increased risk of problems such as dry mouth, gingivitis, gum disease, infection and, ultimately, tooth loss.
“My advice for anyone with diabetes is to make sure you take extra care of yourself. Check your feet regularly and if you notice any cuts, bruising, swelling or colour change in the skin pop and see your pharmacist. There are specially designed moisturisers available that can be applied daily to help combat dry skin. Also, avoid corn removal plasters as they can adversely damage the skin.
“When it comes to oral care, brushing your teeth twice a day with a soft toothbrush using a circular motion is an absolute must as is regular flossing. And if you notice any gum bleeding, a Chlorhexidine-based, anti-bacterial mouthwash from your pharmacy can really help.
“At the end of the day, your pharmacist is on hand to help whenever you need it. We can make sure you are getting the best from your diabetes medications, offer advice and suggest products that can complement those medications to ensure you manage your condition in the best possible way.”