Abu Dhabi: Every eight seconds, someone around the world dies of diabetes. And as of this moment, there are 425 million people worldwide living with the chronic condition, including nearly one in five adults in the UAE.
Despite these staggering figures, the Type 2 diabetes that affects the majority of adults is preventable in nearly half of all cases, according to the International Diabetes Federation ahead of November 14’s World Diabetes Day.
Doctors in the UAE similarly offered hope to diabetics, saying that the disease does not sound a death knell when properly managed.
“In my practice, 95 per cent of patients are able to bring their blood glucose levels within control within a year of diagnosis. So I want patients to know is that a diagnosis is not a reason to lose hope, especially because half of successful diabetes management is psychological,” said Dr Hawaa Al Mansouri, deputy medical director at the Imperial College London Diabetes Centre in Abu Dhabi.
Dr Abhilash Nair, internal medicine specialist at Aster Hospital Al Qusais, agreed.
“For a lot of people, coming to terms with the diagnosis is very difficult, especially because diabetes is viewed as a killer disease, one that affects people for life. While it is true that diabetes is chronic, good management of the condition goes a long way to protect patients from complications,” he said.
Diabetes is classified into Type 1, which is autoimmune and therefore unpreventable, and Type 2, which can often be prevented by pursuing a healthy lifestyle.
“We suspect that Type 2 diabetes also has genetic components because the condition runs in families. Yet, a lot can be done to prevent this form of diabetes and its complications by staying active and eating right,” said Dr Al Mansouri.
In the UAE, coronary artery disease, retinal bleeds and neuropathy, marked by numbness and pain in the extremities, are the most common complications of diabetes. Over time, if blood sugar levels are not controlled, these could develop into more serious conditions, including retinopathy, renal failure, and heart attacks and strokes
Addressing the latest advances in diabetes treatment and management, Dr Al Mansouri mentioned liraglutide, which works to suppress appetite.
“The injectable was approved by the FDA less than a decade ago, but it is one of the most effective medications for diabetics. But the first line of treatment still remains metformin, which reduces blood sugar levels in Type 2 diabetics,” she explained.
There are also devices to make it easier for diabetics to manage their blood sugar levels, whereas bariatric surgery often helps to ‘reverse’ diabetes if the post-surgical weight loss is maintained over time.
“A lot of my patients ask for a much-touted microchip, thinking it is a cure to the condition. But these devices regularly inject insulin into the bloodstream. They’re not a cure, but a substitute for insulin injections. As for bariatric surgery, maintaining the weight loss is key, otherwise the patient may develop uncontrolled blood sugar again,” Dr Al Mansouri said.
Lifestyle modification is key
In fact, even though there are many new ways to manage diabetes, there is still no substitute for the lifestyle modification that is always recommended by doctors.
“A cure, if at all possible through gene replacement or stem cell therapy, is still not in the line of sight. Moreover, these may only be available to a few patients due to financial constraints, or only treat a subset of patients,” Dr Nair explained.
“This is why it is important to have the motivation to manage the disease through exercise and a balanced diet, along with regular follow-ups and family support. The condition is more easily manageable now than it was a decade ago, so patients should take heart and do their best,” he added.
Every 8 seconds, someone dies of diabetes
425 million people living with diabetes worldwide, majority Type 2 diabetics
50 per cent of Type 2 diabetes cases preventable
1 in 5 adults in UAE is diabetic
The UAE is committed to its goal of reducing the prevalence of diabetes from 19.3 to 16.3 per cent by 2021.
17.3 per cent of the UAE population between the age of 20-79 have Type 2 diabetes.
There are over 1 million people living with diabetes in the UAE, placing the country 15th in the world for prevalence.
4.7 per cent of Emirati men aged 18-29 years is diabetic
2.2 million diabetics are expected in UAE by 2040, if current trends persist