Spokesperson: Dr Teoh Wei Leng, Consultant Endocrinologist at Sunway Medical Centre, Sunway City
Diabetes affects about 422 million people worldwide, with the majority living in low-and middle-income countries, and 1.5 million deaths are directly attributed to this condition each year.i Fortunately, increased advancements in the medical industry have significantly improved patient outcomes in terms of diagnosis and treatment.
We spoke to Dr Teoh Wei Leng, Consultant Endocrinologist at Sunway Medical Centre, Sunway City, to better understand this rampant condition this World Diabetes Day.
“Diabetes is a chronic disease when an individual’s pancreas does not produce sufficient insulin or when it cannot effectively use the insulin it produces.ii Insulin is a hormone that helps glucose get into your cells to be used for energy. When this fails, it can lead to elevated glucose levels in your body and over long periods of time can raise one’s risk of organ damage to eyes, kidneys, nerves, blood vessels and/or heart.iii” Dr Teoh explains.
The prevalence of diabetes among Malaysians is heading towards an upward trajectory. It is estimated that 7 million adult Malaysians will be affected by diabetes by 2025. Dr Teoh explains that the most common type of this condition is Type 2 diabetes, and of late, it seems also to be affecting younger people. “One of the most worrying phenomena is that people are getting diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at a much younger age. I diagnosed a 17-year-old recently, with childhood obesity and strong family history of diabetes. Our paediatric endocrinologists are seeing Type 2 diabetes in children which was never the case before,” added Dr Teoh.
Understanding the Root Causes Is Not As Simple as Excess Sugar
Dr Teoh pointed out that while genetic predisposition does play a role, lifestyle choices significantly contribute to diabetes. “Poor dietary habits, sedentary lifestyles, and obesity are prominent triggers. We need to educate good healthy food choices from childhood so that we can form healthy lifelong eating habits to reduce the rise of obesity. Addressing these factors is crucial in our battle against diabetes.”
“Frequent urination, excessive thirst, unexplained weight loss, and fatigue are classic signs. If you notice these symptoms, don’t dismiss them, get your blood sugar levels checked promptly. Today, blood sugar levels can be checked for free or a small fee in pharmacies or clinics,” shares Dr Teoh.
Dispelling Myths and Encouraging Healthy Habits
One of the challenges in managing diabetes is the prevalence of myths and misconceptions. Dr Teoh is quick to dispel these misconceptions, especially regarding medication, “A common misconception is that diabetes medications harm the kidneys. In reality, uncontrolled diabetes can lead to kidney damage. It’s essential to ensure regular follow-up with your diabetes doctor.”
Furthermore, Dr Teoh stresses the importance of a balanced lifestyle. “Healthy eating and regular exercise are paramount,” she says. “It’s not about extreme diets; it’s about sustainable, nutritious choices. Small changes in daily habits can lead to significant overall health improvements. For example, instead of eating out or takeaways 3-4 times a week, eat out once a week. A balanced diet that includes whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables is essential. Pair this with regular exercise – even a brisk walk every day can make a substantial difference,” adds Dr Teoh.
One big myth is that if you do not have family history of diabetes then you will not get diabetes. Dr Teoh explained that despite the lack of family history of diabetes, poor lifestyle choices and poor dietary habits can increase the risk for Type 2 Diabetes. No one is spared from the risk of diabetes!
Innovations in Treating and Managing Diabetes
On treatment options, Dr Teoh shared the growing advancement in diabetes treatment and management, “We have seen remarkable progress in diabetes management. From innovative medications to continuous glucose monitoring systems, there are various tools available. However, personalised care that fits a patient’s needs or lifestyle and patient education remain the cornerstones of effective treatment.”
Breaking The Diabetes Hurdles With Education, Understanding And Compassion
In conclusion, diabetes is a challenge, but it’s a challenge that can be met with awareness, education, and collective efforts. Dr Teoh shares, “With the right knowledge and support, individuals with diabetes can lead fulfilling lives. It can be done with a holistic approach that includes understanding the condition, making informed choices and having compassion.”