On World Diabetes Day (14 November) the Public Health Agency (PHA) is encouraging everyone across Northern Ireland to be aware of how diabetes can be prevented and what the signs and symptoms of diabetes are to ensure early diagnosis and good diabetic care.
There are an estimated 69,000 adults (aged over 16) and 850 children (aged under 16) living with diabetes in Northern Ireland in 2010. The number of adults with diabetes in Northern Ireland has increased by 34% since 2004.
Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented. It usually occurs in children and young adults where there may or may not be a family history of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes typically occurs after the age of 40, but may occur at a younger age, and can often be prevented – mainly by keeping your weight within the normal range for your height.
Dr Brid Farrell, Consultant in Public Health Medicine with the PHA said; “The increase of diabetes occurring in the population can be explained by rising levels of obesity, people living longer and improved detection and diagnosis of diabetes in primary care”.
The symptoms of diabetes can include increased thirst, passing urine more frequently (bedwetting in children), extreme tiredness, slow healing infections, blurred vision and significant or unexplained weight loss. Symptoms of diabetes can develop quickly over days or weeks, and sometimes with Type 2 diabetes, a person may have no symptoms. Early diagnosis is important. If you think you have diabetes speak to your GP or pharmacist.
Adults with diabetes living in disadvantaged areas have poorer health compared to people living in more affluent areas and disadvantage is associated with higher rates of Type 2 diabetes.
Dr Farrell continued: “Diabetes is a lifelong condition, but complications can be prevented or delayed by controlling your blood sugar, and treating high blood pressure and high cholesterol. If you have diabetes, a healthy diet and regular exercise is very important.
“One of the complications of diabetes is diabetic retinopathy or eye disease. The PHA has established a Diabetic Retinopathy Screening Programme to screen all eligible people with diabetes over the age of 12. Regular eye screening promotes early detection of problems and allows appropriate treatment to be offered before complications develop. It is vital that everyone with diabetes attends diabetic retinopathy screening when it is offered.
“Northern Ireland has seen a huge increase in the number of people diagnosed with diabetes since 2004. Many of these cases are preventable and related to obesity. Urgent action is needed to address the rising levels of obesity in the general population.”
Health Minister Michael McGimpsey said: "I remain committed to providing high quality services for people with diabetes.
“Over the last decade there has been significant investment and we have made a number of advances. Extra staff have been recruited to provide services for people with diabetes, including specialist diabetic nurses, dieticians and podiatrists.”
The Minister concluded: “The rise in the level of diabetes has a massive impact on individuals’ health, and it presents a real challenge for our health services. If we do not continue to make further progress, particularly through public health measures to prevent new cases of diabetes, the Health Service as we know it will be overwhelmed within 20 years.”
Contact PHA Press Office on 028 9031 1611.
For further information on the Diabetic Retinopathy Screening Programme visit www.publichealth.hscni.net
Figures supplied by the Quality and Outcomes Framework data.
Notes to the editor
Dr Brid Farrell is available for interview on 12 November 2010.