Diabetes in Cayman

Cayman has an estimated 3,220 diabetics and the number of people falling victim to the chronic condition is growing yearly.

The exact number of diabetics in Cayman remains unknown. The Health Services Authority has registered 2,255 diabetics – up from 2,015 in 2007 – and this accounts for 70 per cent of diagnosed diabetics. Health experts acknowledge that there may be many more who remain undiagnosed and untreated.

Christina Rowlandson, organiser of the Cayman Islands Diabetes Support Group, was diagnosed with the disease when she was 27 and she admits the diagnosis came as a shock.

But her symptoms were fairly typical of the early warning signs of diabetes – a raging and unquenchable thirst, frequent urination, blurred vision and unexpected weight loss.

“For me, the weight loss happened several months before I was diagnosed. Your body is basically using your fat for fuel. At the time, I thought ‘I’m looking toned’ and I didn’t complain. Now I say to people if you have weight loss and don’t know why, something is up.”

“I also had blurred vision about a year before I was diagnosed,” she said.

High blood sugar changes the shape and flexibility of the eye’s lens, distorting the ability to focus and causing the blurred vision.

Saturday [November 14] was World Diabetes Day. This was marked by several events in Cayman, including mass screening for diabetes  and the lighting up of iconic buildings in blue such as Pedro St James. A blue circle is the symbol of World Diabetes Day.

According to a report released in September 2007 by Laurence van Hanswijck de Jonge and Tamer Tadros, 4.4 per cent of the population has some form of diabetes, with another 2.4 per cent with pre-diabetes.

The report showed that diabetes is significantly more prevalent in the older age bracket, while pre- or borderline diabetes did not vary over age groups.

Of people surveyed who had diabetes, nearly 85 per cent were obese or overweight, compared to 15.2 per cent who were of normal weight.

The number of diabetics on Cayman Brac is easier to track. The island has 100 diabetics in its 1,200 population; meaning 8.3 per cent of the island’s inhabitants are affected.

Diabetes is a condition where the blood sugar level is higher than normal. There are two main types of diabetes – Type 1 diabetes, or insulin-dependent diabetes, is usually seen in children and young people, and Type 2 diabetes, which is normally non-insulin-dependent and tends to affect adults over the age of 40 and those who are overweight.

Insulin is a hormone which is produced by the pancreas gland in the abdomen and controls the use of glucose or sugar in the body.

While the warning signs and symptoms of diabetes may not be pleasant, they can be useful in helping parents identify when their child needs to be checked for sugar readings.

Ms Rowlandson said new studies show that bed-wetting and stomach cramps may signal that a child has Type 1 diabetes.

Other signs include tiredness, mood swings, frequent infections and poor healing.

Once a person is diagnosed with diabetes, especially Type 1, it is vital that they regularly check their blood sugar levels. Monitors that do this are now widely available.

However, Lindsay McLean of Cayman Pharmacy Group said many people are using old monitors that need large globules of blood and take 45 seconds to give a reading. Newer monitors are now available that use miniscule amounts of blood and take just five seconds to give the blood sugar results.

“For a patient with insulin-dependent Type 1 diabetes, it is pretty much imperative to take a blood sugar reading because they don’t want to experience low blood sugar that could result in seizures or even a coma. If they feel shaky, or sweaty, or confused, it could mean their blood sugar is getting low,” she warned.

Obesity and an inactive lifestyle pose high risks for the development of Type 2 diabetes (also known as diabetes mellitus). However, as more children are becoming overweight, Type 2 diabetes is becoming more common in young people.

But while weight and food choices, as well as genetics, does play a role in who develop diabetes, a glance at some well-known diabetics show that you don’t need to be obese or out of shape to get the disease.

Actress Halle Berry was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 1989. American football player Jay Cutler, quarterback with the Chicago Bears was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 24 and Los Angeles Lakers basketball player, Adam Morrison, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 13.

In Cayman, obesity among children is on the increase, although some schools and medical services are making efforts to make children eat healthier.

Over 30 per cent of the children, between the age of 3 and 5 are clinically obese or at risk for obesity according to report conducted by the Health Services Authority.

Studies have found that overweight children carry a greater risk of developing chronic diseases like diabetes earlier in life, even if in their early adult lives.

Many times, Type 2 diabetes can be prevented by opting for a healthy lifestyle, which includes making nutritious food choices, developing sound eating habits, and engaging in physical activity on a daily basis.

According to health experts, 30 minutes of exercise a day can reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 40 per cent. All three components together should result in maintaining a healthy weight for height. Children can learn these habits from an early age and carry them into adulthood.

Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure, lower limb amputations, and adult-onset blindness and affects 19 million people in the 25 member states of the European Union (over 4 per cent of the population).

It is estimated that one-third of diabetes incidence is Europeans is still undiagnosed. Nearly 21 million Americans have diabetes, another 41 million have pre-diabetes.

More information on diabetes can be obtained from a local online resource run by the Diabetes Support Group at www.caymanactive.com/diabetes. Also, the Cayman Islands Diabetes Association can be contacted on 928-6240.