War on diabetes: Focus on undiagnosed patients

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War on diabetes: Focus on undiagnosed patients

Diabetes society chief says early detection means better remedy


Kelly Clarke

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Published: Sun 20 Jul 2014, 11:43 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 8:56 PM

With about 20 per cent of the population — or one in five people — living with diabetes, it has become a lethal problem among Arabs.

Abdulrazzak Al Madini

The International Diabetes Federation says there are around 750,000 diabetics in the UAE alone. A further 300,000 people are thought to have the condition though there hasn’t been an actual diagnosis.

An increase in sedentary lifestyles is to blame, says an expert.

Speaking to Khaleej Times, Dr Abdulrazzak Al Madini, head of the Emirates Diabetes Society, said this undiagnosed figure needs to be tackled head on.

“We need people to act sooner so we can detect the condition earlier. Too many people think ‘It won’t happen to me’, but with today’s rise in unhealthy lifestyles, many people are at risk of diabetes.”

Al Madini said GCC countries have the highest rate of diabetes in the region.

In the UAE alone, it is thought that more than 930,000 people have impaired glucose tolerance, a pre-diabetic state of hyperglycaemia, or elevated levels of blood sugar, and are therefore at risk of developing the disease if undetected.

“This figure is too high. Before, diabetes was a disease often diagnosed in people in their 40s but nowadays, it is affecting children and teens. The number of younger people diagnosed with the condition is on the rise,” he said, adding that an increase in financial capabilities is the root cause.

As oil money poured into the Middle East over the past two decades, the economy grew and the countries within it became rich. With this vast growth in wealth, waistlines have since grown and so too has the risk of diabetes.

Unhealthy eating habits and lack of exercise are the main culprits with many now splurging on fast food as an easy alternative to healthy, home-cooking.

Advice for Ramadan

> Low risk– Diabetics in this category can usually fast without any problems. You will have to change the timing of your tablet intake (before sunrise and after sunset). Fasting can help reduce weight, which could prove beneficial.

> Intermediate risk– These are people who take tablets as well as injections or have other complications. You can fast but should take precautions. Control intake of food when breaking the fast. Eating too much at once could dramatically change blood sugar levels.

> High risk– This usually affects the young or elderly or those with severe organ complications. Consult your doctor as to whether it is safe to fast or not.


“We have witnessed a huge change in lifestyles in this region. Everywhere you look, there’s a restaurant and there has been a huge expanse in fast food outlets too.”

Placing some of the blame on food business owners more interested in monetary gains than the negative impact on the health of their customers, Dr Al Madini said dining out has now become an affordable luxury. But with this comes risks. As bellies swell so does the rate of obesity, which is one of the main catalysts in the development of diabetes.

“Nowadays, it is so easy for people to order food to the door. Even children can do it. This adds to the negative aspects relating to increased diabetes cases. But on the positive side, people are becoming more aware of the risks,” he said. Asked whether this increase could be linked to the belief that events are controlled and predetermined by Allah, Dr Al Madini vehemently disagreed.

“It is Allah who (chalked out) our life path but He says if there is a will, there is a way. People know that their health is important and they are taking control of it. In fact this is why we are becoming more aware of cases because people are taking action.”

With an increased number of awareness programmes being backed by the government and specialised organisations such as the Emirates Diabetes Society, people are also becoming more conscious about leading healthier lives. “As awareness grows, we hope to bring down the number of undiagnosed cases,” he said.

Undiagnosed diabetes can silently damage a person’s body for years without showing any signs. This can lead to complications and can result in internal organ failure and limb amputation.

Dr Al Madini said the main priority is prevention of the disease by promoting healthier lifestyles. In cases where this cannot be achieved early detection will lead to better long-term management.

“People tend to ignore the signs associated with diabetes, blaming the hot weather for an increase in thirst or extra fluid intake to an increase in urine. They need to get checked should symptoms like these arise.”

For those aged 30 and over, Al Madini suggests an annual check-up. For high risk people who are obese or have a family history of diabetes, check-ups should be carried out regularly, no matter what the age.

“We are very optimistic that we can see a drop in the number of diagnoses in the future. The key to avoiding diabetes is to lead an active and healthy lifestyle and it is imperative to keep your doctor close and follow his advice,” Al Madini said.


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