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Living with diabetes

This article focuses on ‘Type 2 Diabetes’ which in most cases develops in adults due to a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors

2012 Available in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish

Regular health checks, like these in Sierra Leone, can help to detect the early signs of disease. Photo: Jim Loring/Tearfund

From: Non-communicable diseases – Footsteps 87

Ways to share health messages and reduce the risk of developing non-communicable diseases

This article focuses on ‘Type 2 Diabetes’ which in most cases develops in adults due to a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors. On the centre spread (page 9), you can read about the symptoms and risk fac-tors associated with diabetes.

An emerging global epidemic

In 2010, the World Diabetes Foundation estimated that 285 million people were living with diabetes. That means that six out of every 100 people in the world are affected by this disease. The number is expected to grow to 438 million by 2030.

A leading cause of disability

Diabetes could become one of the world’s leading causes of physical disability over the next decades. Diabetes leads to many serious health conditions. People suffering from diabetes can often experience loss of sensation in their feet. Even the smallest injury can lead to infection which, if not treated promptly, may lead to serious complications. Diabetes now causes a high proportion of all leg amputations.

If left undiagnosed, diabetes can lead to permanent damage to the eyes and, in some cases, to blindness. Your eye has a lens and an opening at the front which adjust to bring objects into focus on the retina at the back of the eye. The retina is made up of delicate tissue that is sensitive to light rather like the film in a camera. The centre of the retina is a small area called the macula. It is vital because it enables you to see fine detail. The medical name for the damage caused to the retina by diabetes is diabetic retinopathy.


It is very important that people find out that they have diabetes as early as possible to avoid the serious damage which the disease can cause. If you notice symptoms of diabetes (see page 9) in yourself or in a friend or relative, you should seek medical help. If you are diagnosed with the disease, doctors can give you advice on how to manage the disease and continue to live a healthy and active life.

For more information on diabetes visit the International Diabetes Federation website:



Diabetes can affect your eyes and sometimes lead to blindness.

  • If possible you should have regular eye tests to check your retina for damage.
  • Managing your diabetes well will help to prevent damage to your eyes. If you are overweight, you should try to lose weight. Eat a healthy diet and learn how to control your blood sugar levels so that they stay within a healthy range.
  • If you notice any changes in your vision, such as blurred eyesight or a sudden decline in vision, seek medical advice.


  • Patients with diabetes often develop foot ulcers and numb feet.
  • It is important to examine your feet regularly. Look for any swollen areas, cuts or sores.
  • Check inside shoes for seams or sharp objects that may cause blisters. 
  • Choose shoes which have a deep and rounded area around the toes so that they do not rub.
  • Keep your toe nails healthy by cutting them once every 6-8 weeks.
  • Wash your feet every day using soap and dry them carefully with a clean towel, especially between your toes. You should not soak your feet for a long time as this can cause them to dry out afterwards and risk more damage.
  • You must always treat foot injuries as quickly as possible. If the foot becomes red, warm and swol-len, there is usually an infection. You may need antibiotics to treat it.

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