While the COVID-19 pandemic remains a health concern worldwide today, it is not the only health threat we contend with. There are also other concerns from cancer to heart disease, and other day-to-day ailments that threaten our health. Diabetes is one of them. In our latest article, we speak to Consultant Endocrinologist Dr. Matthew Tan from Dr Matthew Tan Diabetes and Endocrine Care at Farrer Park Hospital, to learn more about the importance of diabetes and how to manage it amidst COVID-19.
Why Diabetes is a Concern
According to Dr. Tan, diabetes is more than just the rising of blood sugar level. Contrary to the views of naysayers, it is a condition that can happen to anyone and not just the elderly.
Highlighting the severity of diabetes, Dr. Tan shared: “In Singapore and around the world, we are seeing an increasing number of patients with kidney failure requiring dialysis and diabetics’ foot requiring amputation.”
“In fact, if we look at the leading cause of blindness and kidney failure, diabetes turns out to be the main contributor. Diabetes patients also tend to have problems with the nerves and would experience numbness. There is also an increased incidence of amputations,” added Dr. Tan.
Dr. Tan also shares that he has seen how complications of diabetes has affected diabetics’ heart, their brain and cerebral circulation with higher risk of stroke.
“If not controlled, diabetes can also reduce life expectancy by many years especially if the patient also have a heart attack. However, the good news is that if cared for in its early stages, patients can manage the condition and enjoy a long quality of life,” Dr. Tan emphasized.
How to Know if You Have Diabetes
When asked how the severity of the condition can be determined, Dr. Tan recounted how back in 1500 B.C., diabetes was believed to be a mysterious disease that would attract flies and ants to urine of people who experienced intense thirst. While that is not entirely wrong, there are now other symptoms of diabetes that everyone should look out for.
“One of the more serious symptoms is sudden weight loss. Unexplained and involuntary weight loss that is not based on calorie restrictions. This is a symptom that can possibly point you towards a diagnosis,” Dr. Tan explained.
Early-stage Diabetes Presents No Symptoms
Most patients with early-stage diabetes present no symptoms. However, a blood test with a GP or family physician can easily determine that.
Sharing in detail how numbers help doctors and specialists like him diagnose diabetes, Dr. Tan shared: “When a normal adult is fasting, the blood sugar level should be below 6.1 mmol/L. If the blood sugar level before eating is above 7 mmol/L, that could signify diabetes. If the blood sugar level is measured 2 hours after eating, 7.8 mmol/L and below indicates a normal response. If it is above 11.1 mmnol/L, that may also signify diabetes.”
Medical Advances in Diabetes Treatment
With the advancement of medicine, there are now more options to treat diabetes. Compared to the the ‘80s or ‘90s, there were only basic treatments like insulin shots and medicine such as metformin to control the blood sugar level in our body. Treatment options were basic.
“Today, there are many breakthroughs in research and we have found many ways to help patients manage diabetes. There are new solutions and pills for patients to get rid of excess sugar through the urine; pills to help patients regulate their appetite and pills that can send signals to the pancreas more; and the list goes on. There is a lot more options now for doctors to help patients with diabetes and this is great,” Dr. Tan shared.
“I think this is great because there is no one method that works for all. I think we need to find the right solution for the right patient,” Dr. Tan reflected.
Lifestyle Tips on Managing Diabetes
When asked for tips on preventing and managing diabetes, Dr. Tan started off by sharing about the importance of eating in moderation and exercise. Group exercises are great as the company can often encourage one another to keep up with the exercises however it is not advisable now with COVID-19 lingering around.
“Mass or group exercise are not encouraged amidst COVID-19 but we should definitely look at ways to exercise at home and find ways to jog or brisk walk.”
Touching on white rice and sweetened beverages, Dr. Tan exclaimed that these are recipes for disasters. Emphasizing his point, he said: “I have met patients who told me that they don’t feel full unless they eat two to three bowls of white rice. That is excessive and needs to be reduced. There are also those who told me they drink lots of sweetened beverages. Again, these are bad calories and these are bad sugar; it has to be stopped.”
Besides these, Dr. Tan also reminded that excessive drinking of alcohol is also bad for the health, body and pancreas. Fruit juices may be healthy but they should also be reduced and consumed in moderation because of the sugar contents they possess. Diabetics or those who are at risk of diabetes must not over consume fruits.
“What is worse than eating too many fruits is consuming too much fruit juice,” Dr. Tan emphasized.
“With the right lifestyle, patients with diabetes can perhaps manage their condition with little to no medications. But in cases where patients are diagnosed with a more severe type of diabetes, we (doctors) may have no choice but to use (hopefully) the right medications and injections to keep it under control, and prevent other complications such as heart problems, kidney problems, eye problems etc.,” Dr. Tan concluded.