By JOY WANJA MURAYA
Posted Friday, December 30 2011 at 00:00
A routine medical test can save your life.
It happened to Martin Gatehi. He was 14 and had just sat his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exam in December 2006 when the doctor spelt out the unexpected news.
“You have diabetes,” the doctor told him.
Yet, he had gone to the doctor because all he wanted was a medical report to show he was fit to join Form One.
Martin says the news was not only confusing but also shocking because he had long associated the disease with people aged over 50.
After that diagnosis, he suddenly understood why he had suffered frequent thirsts, sweating and numerous trips to the urinal. He remembered how, as he was walking home, he asked a neighbour to let him drink from the hose he was using to water his plants.
Martin was diagnosed with Type I diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, meaning he is expected to inject himself with insulin twice a day to stabilise his body sugar levels.
Diabetes is a chronic condition that occurs when the pancreas fails produce enough insulin or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces.
Symptoms include excessive excretion of urine (polyuria), thirst (polydipsia), constant hunger, weight loss, vision changes and fatigue. These symptoms may occur suddenly.
Over time, diabetes can damage the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, and nerves.
According to the World Health Organisation, more than 220 million people worldwide have diabetes. This number is likely to more than double by 2030 without intervention. Almost 80 per cent of diabetes deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries such as Kenya.Not only is the prevalence of diabetes increasing at an alarming rate, it has also debunked the myth that the disease affects the rich only.
Studies have found large numbers of people with the disease in slums.
According to Martin, one of the more common misconceptions that affect young people with diabetes is failure of peers to understand the importance to inject a daily dose of insulin.
“When I joined Form One, my schoolmates could not understand what was wrong with me. Some whispered that I was a drug addict and that I took cocaine every day,” Martin recalls.
Today he injects himself twice a day and checks his blood glucose levels at least once a day. He also closely watches his diet to avoid triggering an increase or reduction in his blood sugar levels.
“I eat normal meals though I am very particular on the quantity of the food,” he says.
However, he advises every diabetic person to carry a form of identification containing the crucial information that one is diabetic to help doctors manage the person better in case of a crisis.
“Few Kenyans are informed on the steps to take incase a diabetic person goes into a coma especially in a public area,” he says.
A diabetic coma is a medical condition in which, a patient suffering from diabetes loses his/her consciousness due to imbalance in blood sugar levels. A patient suffering from very low blood sugar (known as severe hypoglycemia) or very high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) can get into diabetic coma.
Doctors say the easiest way to avoid diabetes is to exercise more or engage in physically demanding tasks.
According to Elijah Ogola, the increase of lifestyle diseases in towns is worrying because people avoid physical activities and do not always eat healthy foods.
Prof Ogola, a lecturer at the University Of Nairobi School Of Medicine, advises Kenyans to walk to save their lives, literally.
“You could alight 100 metres from the bus stop and walk to the office and alight 100 metres from your house and walk home.” Prof Ogola advises.
Walking and cycling have been proven to delay the onset of lifestyle diseases like diabetes, cancer and heart conditions that are as a result of eating unhealthy high-calorie foods and exposure to other environmental factors.