Diabetes the silent killer – how your local pharmacist can help


November is Diabetes Awareness Month. Type 2 diabetes, or adult-onset diabetes, is called “the silent killer” and is an escalating epidemic – with one in 11 people living with diabetes, and predictions of worldwide prevalence exceeding 578 million by 2030.

Diabetes is a serious condition, causing millions of deaths globally per year. Worryingly, as much as 50% of people with diabetes don’t know they have it!

According to Jackie Maimin, CEO of the Independent Community Pharmacy Association (ICPA), there is unquestionable evidence that early diagnosis, control and management of type 2 diabetes can delay, or stop complications from this disease, and brings about improvements in overall health and quality of life. Some sufferers have even managed to reverse their diabetes and stop taking medication altogether.

“Living with the disease undiagnosed or unmanaged could lead to dangerous health problems, and even death, and so it is important that South Africans know and understand the disease, its symptoms, causes and treatment. Proper treatment and care can assist with a longer, healthier and happier life,” says Maimin.

What is diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is a condition that causes too much sugar in your blood. How this happens is that your body breaks down carbohydrates from your food and drink and turns it into glucose. The pancreas then responds to this by releasing insulin (a hormone that allows the glucose in our blood to enter our cells and fuel our bodies). But because this insulin can’t work properly, your blood sugar levels keep rising. This means more insulin is released. Over time this can eventually tire the pancreas out, meaning your body makes less and less insulin which leads to even higher blood sugar levels and means you are at risk of hyperglycaemia.

Symptoms of type 2 diabetes can include:
⦁ urinating more than usual, particularly at night;
⦁ feeling thirsty all the time
⦁ feeling very tired
⦁ losing weight without trying to
⦁ cuts or wounds taking longer to heal
⦁ blurred vision

Maimin advises that you are more at risk of developing type 2 diabetes if you are over 40, have a close relative with diabetes, are inactive and are overweight or obese.

Some of the complications from diabetes include an eye disease called diabetic retinopathy which can lead to loss of sight, foot problems due to poor circulation and nerve damage, and even amputation, heart attacks and stroke from high blood pressure, damage to your kidneys and kidney disease, nerve damage which can affect how we see, hear, feel and move, and gum disease and other mouth problems. If you have diabetes, you’re also more at risk of developing certain cancers.

Pharmacists play an increasing role in the support of people with type 2 Diabetes
“The good news is that your local community pharmacist can help you to detect if you may be diabetic or at risk of becoming diabetic, help you manage and even, in some cases, reverse the disease through healthy lifestyle changes, and refer you to your general practitioner for diagnosis and treatment” says Maimin.

“In South Africa the role of the pharmacist is of increasing importance in the management of chronic illnesses like diabetes. The community pharmacist is often the first port of call, and it is estimated that on average, a person with diabetes visits the pharmacy three to eight times more often than other patients. Consequently, community pharmacies are ideally placed to assist in the detection, education, and referral of individuals at risk of diabetes.”

“Community pharmacists have the opportunity to play a fundamental role in managing diabetes, along with its complications, by helping people who have the disease to check their glucose levels, monitoring and promoting patient adherence with medication, identifying and resolving medicine-related problems, providing targeted education, monitoring blood pressure, weight and lipids, and reminding patients of the importance of regular check-ups for the presence of diabetic complications.”

“There are many supplements that can be taken to assist with managing diabetes, and pharmacists are able to advise on these to ensure patients have no adverse interactions. There are also lifestyle changes that can be made which have a dramatic impact on diabetes, even reversing the disease for some patients. These encompass diet and exercise, quitting smoking, and other lifestyle adaptations. Pharmacists are well equipped to guide diabetics on the necessary measures they can take to help themselves, as well as refer them on to the relevant healthcare professionals such as dieticians, podiatrists, optometrists, etc. for wholistic management”

The diabetes epidemic is on the increase and will be a significant global burden in the future. The economic burden of diabetes is also substantial. Doctors and nurses have historically been responsible for diabetes management and treatment; however, the rising diabetes epidemic will place an inevitable strain on their workload, and this will result in an increased role for pharmacists to work in collaboration with other healthcare providers to help diabetics attaining the best health status.

“A pharmacist is one of few medical professionals in the world to whom a patient or anyone else can go for a consultation or advice without an appointment. They are easily accessed and knowledgeable about a myriad of aspects concerning patients and their medication. Pharmacists have been described as a caregiver, communicator, decision-maker, teacher, leader and manager and they are therefore ideally situated to help South Africans with diabetes to have improved long-term health and wellbeing,” says Maimin.

For more information on diabetes, or how to get help from your local community pharmacist, contact the Independent Community Pharmacy Association on  021 671 4473 or visit www.icpa.co.za to find a pharmacy that can assist.


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