Non communicable diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases are becoming increasingly important as the causes of mortality and morbidity in all developing countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, it is estimated that by 2020, non-communicable diseases will surpass communicable diseases as the leading cause of death.
The burden of diabetes in Cameroon is not only high, but is also rising rapidly with studies showing an almost 10 fold increase in diabetes prevalence. In Cameroon, age, obesity and hypertension are significantly associated with hyperglycemia. Diabetes is highly associated with a family history of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Long term complications of diabetes develop gradually. The longer you have diabetes – and the less controlled your blood sugar – the higher the risk of complications. While these complications are serious and can be life-threatening, with appropriate lifestyle changes and attention to blood glucose control, people with diabetes can greatly reduce the risk of these complications.
Diabetes dramatically increases the risk of various cardiovascular problems, including coronary artery disease with chest pain (angina), heart attack, stroke and narrowing of arteries (atherosclerosis). If you have diabetes, you are more likely to have heart disease or stroke. In general terms, the risk of heart disease in diabetes can be reduced by:
- being physically active
- losing weight if you are overweight
- not smoking
- managing high blood pressure
Nerve damage (neuropathy).
Excess sugar can injure the walls of the tiny blood vessels (capillaries) that nourish your nerves, especially in your legs. This can cause tingling, numbness, burning or pain that usually begins at the tips of the toes or fingers and gradually spreads upward. Left untreated, you could lose all sense of feeling in the affected limbs. You can help prevent or delay diabetic neuropathy and its complications by keeping your blood sugar consistently well-controlled, taking good care of your feet and following a healthy lifestyle.
Kidney damage (nephropathy).
The kidneys contain millions of tiny blood vessel clusters (glomeruli) that filter waste from your blood. Diabetes can damage this delicate filtering system. Severe damage can lead to kidney failure or irreversible end-stage kidney disease, which may require dialysis or a kidney transplant. People with diabetes are at risk of bladder and kidney infections; however, maintaining good blood glucose control and keeping your blood pressure at a healthy level will reduce this risk.
Eye damage (retinopathy).
Diabetes can damage the blood vessels of the retina (diabetic retinopathy), potentially leading to blindness. Diabetes also increases the risk of other serious vision conditions, such as cataracts and glaucoma. Regular checks and treatment can prevent blindness. To look after your eyes and help prevent vision loss:
- have your eyes checked regularly, at least every two years, to pick up early signs of damage
- control your blood glucose levels
- maintain a healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- If your vision has been affected, seek treatment from your doctor to stop it from getting worse.
Both men and women with diabetes may lose their sexual desire when their blood glucose levels are high. Men with diabetes are at a higher risk of erectile dysfunction, or impotence, especially if their diabetes is not well controlled.
There is no cure for diabetes, and it persists throughout life. However, diet, exercise, and medication can help manage glucose levels and prevent complications which are the major challenges than the high blood sugar levels.