Undiagnosed Diabetes: Do you have it?

A dry-cleaner unknowingly carried diabetes for eight years, prior to getting diagnosed six months ago. Cases like Ali Shah’s are all too common.

Diabetes is a common and potentially overwhelming condition if not treated efficiently. Diabetes is when the body can’t make insulin – the hormone that manages blood glucose levels – which may result in damaged blood vessels, organs and nerves. Type 1 means insulin needs to be injected into the skin as stomach acid rejects it. Type 2 can be treated by both diet and exercise in addition to medication if necessary and accounts for 90% of diabetes.

Dry cleaner Ali Shah, 36, who grew up in Sri Lanka, has lived with diabetes for eight years according to doctors who diagnosed him six months ago.

Mr Shah is just one in an estimated one million of those in the UK living with undiagnosed diabetes.

Mr Shah had inherited the condition from his mother who had passed on the disease to him which made him pre-diabetic. Pre-diabetes is when your blood sugar levels are higher than normal but when it’s not enough to be considered diabetes.

The unexpected news came as Mr Shah went in for a routine check-up after he suspected he had a kidney infection. He said: “I was very surprised at first and of course, a little bit upset.”

He now follows a strict diet plan as doctors are still unsure as to which type of diabetes Mr Shah lives with. He’s been told by doctors to stay vigilant and be constantly aware of his well-being.

The 36-year-old – who is married with a nine-year-old daughter – said he approached the situation with a positive attitude as he has a livelihood to maintain and family to provide for.

He added that the whole experience taught him the value of health and to prioritise what is important.

“My number one priority is my family as I’ve got another child on the way.”

Mr Shah runs a dry-cleaning and tailor business, based in South Ruislip alongside his brother. He explained that he’s generally more tired, now pays close attention to details and has to keep an eye on his weight to “make sure I stay on track.”

Mr Shah admits getting frustrated at having to limit physical activity, but insists that the NHS have supported him. “It’s better that I know what I’m living with before it’s too late,” he said.

However, diabetes doesn’t only affect adults but people of all ages, even children to young adults. Alicia Le Bas (pictured), 16, who has type 1 diabetes, said: “I think they [the NHS] are super helpful as they are always looking out for you.

She added: “Diabetes can be difficult sometimes, as it affects your whole body.”

Alicia has lived with diabetes for over half of her life as she was eight when she found she had the condition. She explained: “Living with diabetes can be both perfectly fine, and dangerous. It takes some time getting used to it at first.”

High levels of glucose in the blood lead to blood vessel and vital organ damages with extreme cases resulting in a coma from brain damage and even, death. But over-treating diabetes is also harmful as low blood glucose levels means your body can’t respond or react accordingly.

However, the condition doesn’t just come with physical dangers but may have psychological and emotional implications. Side effects of medication or dealing with the responsibility of managing the condition can lead to depression, eating disorders or phobias. Studies suggest that those with diabetes are twice as likely to suffer from depression.

Professionals at Diabetes UK provided advice and tips to help deal with and prevent diabetes. “Diet is one of the most important aspects of living with and preventing diabetes. A healthy balanced diet is vital. The key word being ‘balanced’.”

“Just because someone has diabetes doesn’t mean they can’t have a certain kind of food, but it’s important to take everything in moderation and understand how various foods impact our body.”

“Exercise and being active is essential too. While not everyone can make it to the gym every week, a half hour walk everyday will do fine or choosing to take the stairs over the elevator. Small changes can make a big difference in the long run.”

Now Mr Shah is warning others to spot the early warning signs and encourages those with the condition to “keep preserving.” He said: “It is what it is, so you must learn to live with it and keep living your life well to the best of your ability.” He added that mental health is as important as physical health and that with a positive attitude you’ve won half the fight.

By supporting those with diabetes in his local area, Ali Shah hopes to help raise awareness for the metabolic disorder. He said: “It’s simple, if we reach out and help one another we can overcome these challenges together.

“I’ve heard that in America there are operations involving the pancreas which can cure diabetes. If it’s possible, I’ll go for it.”

For more information visit your local GP or call the Diabetes UK Helpline, on 0345 123 2399.

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