The Malta Independent 3 December 2021, Friday

FIRST: Living with diabetes

Monday, 20 November 2017, 10:58 Last update: about 5 years ago

November is Diabetes awareness month. This year, the theme in focus is on women and diabetes. First magazine spoke to Nadia Farrugia Olivari, a diabetes sufferer, about the struggles the condition poses, and finding how to manage it. Words and photography by Joanna Demarco.

With a contagious smile, trying to keep her five-year old son back from interrupting our interview, the mother of two sat on her kitchen table opposite me, as she explained how she is now in a good place, where she wouldn't think twice about indulging in a piece of dessert when going out to eat. However, "wouldn't eat cake day after day just for the sake of it."

Nadia has been a sufferer of the less-common, Type 1 diabetes, from the age of seven, and is one of the tens of thousands who suffer from the condition in Malta.  


According to the Head of Diabetes at Mater Dei Hospital, Professor Stephen Fava, Malta sees one of the highest prevalances of Diabetes worldwide. "This is probably related to both genetic factors and lifestyle habits," Fava explained, adding that there is evidence that the numbers are increasing locally.

Diabetes Mellitus is defined by the World Health Organisation as a "a chronic, metabolic disease characterised by elevated levels of blood glucose (or blood sugar), which, over time leads to serious damage to the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, and nerves". Vascular disease consists of arterial or venous insufficiencies to an organ. 

Type 1 diabetes (also called juvenile-onset or insulin-dependent diabetes), is the less common type of diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, where your body does not produce insulin. Without insulin, cells cannot absorb sugar (glucose), which they need to produce energy.

Whereas with diabetes type 2, the more common type, your body does not make or use insulin well.

Type 2 diabetes (formerly called adult-onset or non-insulin-dependent diabetes) can develop at any age. It most commonly becomes apparent during adulthood. But type 2 diabetes in children is rising. Type 2 diabetes accounts for the vast majority of people who have diabetes-90 to 95 out of 100 people.

Having too much glucose in your blood can create serious problems in a long-term nature. Your eyes, kidneys and nerves could be damaged. It can also cause heart disease, stroke and the need to amputate.

The symptoms which led to Nadia finding out that she has diabetes Type 1 started when she was five, when she had asthma and chest infections, from which the condition developed.

"After these symptoms started to emerge, I had done some tests at hospital and they told me that I had Type 1 diabetes," she said. She explained how, at such a young age, her mother took care of her and gave her insulin, and slowly taught her how to take it on her own.

"It then became inbuilt in my routine," she said. She explained that when she was younger, the type of insulin given to her often interrupted her plans.

"When I was young I had to take insulin half an hour before I ate, and that was a bit of a hurdle, it would interfere with my plans," she said. "For example I would have to go home if I was out, or eating something when out was a bit of a problem, because how could I be sure the food would arrive exactly half an hour after?"

However, for the past seven years, Nadia's newer insulin allows her to feel more normalized when it comes to food-consumptions, and increase time-flexibility, which gives her more of a normal routine. She now measures what she is eating and calculates her insulin intake accordingly. With hardly any hindrance in her day-to-day life, she said that she now does these things automatically.

When in doubt, she has a book to guide her with regards her intake. "For example, every ten grammes of carbohydrates means I take one unit of insulin," she explained.

With the knowledge that insulin can result in weight gain, Nadia said how she makes it appoint to do some sort of physical exercise every day, be it a half-an-hour walk or a day of going up and down to complete the laundry.

Nadia's management over her condition seems to be in control now. However, she recalls a time a few years back when the stability in her life was shaky and therefore her grasp over diabetes had loosened, and her health suffered as a result.

"I passed through a phase, when things were going on in life and I admit, it was not that controlled, I was not stable, and there were consequences," she said, explaining that, because of that lack of control, her eyesight in one eye suffered.

Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to serious complications, such as neuropathy and retinopathy, and increase the risk of cardiovascular, carebovascular and perhiperal arterial disease.

It can also lead to the alteration of the biomechanics of the patient, and could possibly leading to ulcers. Such outcomes may have an impact on the quality of life and loss of independence, especially within the elderly.

"With diabetes, you can live a normal life. In my case, because of this bad period, I have poor vision from one eye, so that affects me a bit, but other than that I live a relatively normal life. I do exercise, I eat normally, I go to work, I drive," she smiled.


How can diabetes be prevented?

Those with a family history of diabetes, women with history of gestational diabetes and overweight and obese persons are those groups of people who are most likely to suffer from diabetes.

In order to reduce the chance of becoming diabetic, a healthier diet, regular exercise and weight control is recommended.


Check if you have diabetes

One can check if they have diabetes by taking a blood test. In the light of November being Diabetes awareness month, the Maltese Diabetes Association will be providing a free blood glucose monitoring service, encouraging the general public to take the first step in getting tested for diabetes. It will be held on Saturday 25 November from 10am at Pama shopping village Mosta.





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