As South Africa joins the international community in observing World Diabetes Day, the Department of Health has urged families to help reduce diabetes by promoting healthy lifestyles and supporting family members with diabetes.
Observed on 14 November each year, World Diabetes Day is the primary global awareness campaign focusing on diabetes mellitus.
World Diabetes Day 2018 is held under the theme 'The family and diabetes', which highlights the effects of diabetes on individuals and families, and the important role they play in the prevention and control of the disease.
According to the StatsSA 2016 report on mortality and causes of death in South Africa, diabetes mellitus is the second leading cause of natural death in the country.
The department said an estimated one out of every three people with diabetes has the disease and does not know it, and about 25% of newly diagnosed diabetes patients already have established complications.
The department also noted that much of a patient's diabetes management takes place within their family and social environment.
"Addressing the family environment for people with diabetes is important since this is the context in which the majority of disease management occurs. Since family members can play a vital role in a patient's disease management, involving them in self-care interventions may positively influence patients' diabetes outcomes.
"Family support can be a key benefit for people with diabetes. For example, families can choose to buy and serve healthy and balanced diets, encourage participation in physical activity and promote healthy living environments," the department said.
Diabetes is a chronic condition that occurs when the body cannot produce enough insulin (type 1 diabetes) or cannot effectively use insulin (type 2 diabetes), and is diagnosed by observing raised levels of glucose in the blood.
According to the department, over 90% of diabetes is type 2 diabetes.
The department said that occurrence of type 2 diabetes is on the increase as a result of aging populations and lifestyle changes, including unhealthy diets and a lack of physical activity.
"Overweight and obesity are the strongest risk factors for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other non-communicable diseases. Prevention of type 2 diabetes and other non-communicable diseases should begin early in childhood and continue throughout life," the department said.
If not well controlled, diabetes may cause blindness, kidney failure, lower limb amputations and other complications like peripheral vascular disease, Ischemic heart disease and cerebrovascular disease (stroke).
The department emphasised that diabetes self-management education is a critical component of care for all individuals with diabetes.
"Engaging in diabetes self-care activities is associated with improved glycaemic control and can prevent diabetes-related complications. Much of a patient's diabetes management takes place within their family and social environment."
Diabetes signs and symptoms
Diabetes signs and symptoms include frequent urination (polyuria), excessive thirst (polydipsia), increased hunger, weight loss, tiredness, lack of interest and concentration, a tingling sensation or numbness in the hands or feet, blurred vision, frequent infections, slow healing wounds, and vomiting and stomach pain (often mistaken as the flu).
The department has committed to implement public education and awareness campaigns to empower individuals and families with information and education to prevent diseases like type 2 diabetes, and ensure that people have access to early detection, diagnosis and treatment.
The department also urged everyone to eat healthily, be physically active and avoid excessive weight gain.