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Diabetes Backgrounder


June 2000


Diabetes Backgrounder


The Health Funding Authority’s “Get Checked” Diabetes Campaign is a community-based consumer-focused strategy of health promotion, prevention, early detection, management, education, secondary care and treatment for people with diabetes, especially Maori and Pacific people.

The HFA campaign is supported by diabetes experts from the National Diabetes Working Group who had an integral part in campaign development, by local diabetes teams, GPs, diabetes nurse educators, Maori and Pacific Islands providers and by diabetes consumer groups.

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder where the body is unable to control the amount of glucose in the blood. The level of blood glucose is controlled by insulin – a hormone produced by the pancreas.

There are three types of diabetes:
- Type 1 diabetes – an estimated 11,000 people in New Zealand have this. It is more common in European people than Maori or Pacific people, Most people with type 1 diabetes develop it as children or teenagers.
- Type 2 diabetes – approximately 105,000 people in New Zealand have type 2 diabetes. Maori and Pacific people are more than twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes as European people are. Most people with type 2 diabetes develop it after the age of 40. People over 40 years who are overweight or inactive (especially Maori, Pacific Islands or Asian people), are more at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Gestational diabetes occurs in some women while pregnant. Blood glucose levels usually return to normal once the baby is born, but women who have gestational diabetes are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life. Diabetes in pregnancy remains a leading cause of congenital abnormalities, stillbirths and miscarriages.

A blood test is the only way of testing for diabetes. Because the risk of diabetes increases with age, regular testing is advised, particularly those at risk of getting diabetes.

Diabetes may be controlled by the lifestyle changes that prevent it. In some cases, medication or injections of insulin will be needed. All these aim to keep the blood glucose at a normal level.

An estimated115,000 people in New Zealand have been diagnosed with diabetes. As many as 60,000 who have diabetes do not know. More than $170 million is spent each year in the public health system on diabetes. Most of this money is spent dealing with diabetes-related complications.

This year, one in 32 New Zealand pakeha adults has diabetes (3.1 percent); and one in 12 Maori (8.3 percent) and Pacific Islands (8.1 percent).adults have diabetes.

In 2020 (with no change in risk factors) one in 22 New Zealand Europeans/pakeha adults will have diabetes (4.5 percent); and one in 6 Maori (16.4 percent) and Pacific Islands adults will have diabetes (17.6 percent).

Complications

 If not managed properly, diabetes can cause a number of complications, including:
- Heart disease and stroke – unmanaged diabetes causes build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries, increasing the risk of heart attack or stroke. Blood pressure may also be increased.
- Nerve damage (neuropathy) caused by high levels of glucose in the blood. This can affect any organ in the body, including the bladder, digestive system, and reproductive system.
- Blood vessels in legs and feet can be damaged, which means cuts don’t heal properly. This can lead to gangrene and amputation of toes or feet. For this reason, it is important for people with diabetes to check their feet regularly.
- Blood vessels in the eyes can be damaged (retinopathy), which leads to blindness. Diabetes is the leading avoidable cause of blindness in middle-aged New Zealanders.
- Kidney disease is caused by narrowing of the blood vessels leading to the kidneys, meaning they can’t work properly and filter out waste products from the blood stream. Diabetes is a major cause of renal failure leading to dialysis or kidney transplant.

If diabetes is managed properly, the risk of complications is lower.

Managing and preventing diabetes

People are at risk of type 2 diabetes if they:

- are overweight
- do little exercise or physical activity
- have diabetes in the family/whanau
- are over 40 years of age
- are Maori, Asian or from the Pacific Islands
- are a woman who had diabetes in pregnancy or large babies

Keeping blood glucose levels stable by eating healthy food, keeping active, maintaining a healthy weight, and taking medicine if needed, will reduce the chances of diabetes complications.

By eating healthy food, doing regular physical activity, and losing weight if you are overweight, you can prevent type 2 diabetes.

People with diabetes should have regular check ups to ensure their blood sugar levels are within control and also that the eyes, kidneys and heart are functioning properly. When blood sugar levels are higher, a person is more likely to develop complications.

There is no known way to prevent type 1 diabetes.

______________________________
For more information please contact:
Health Funding Authority ph (04) 495 4335 or 025 529 950

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