You could say that Singapore has a sweet problem. One in nine people aged 18 to 69 has diabetes. That’s more than 400,000 people1. To put a global perspective on things, Singapore has the second-highest proportion of diabetics among developed countries after the United States2.
Getting diagnosed with this chronic condition means making drastic lifestyle changes to manage your new health situation – from adopting healthier eating habits to exercising more, regular health monitoring, medication, frequent blood tests and doctor visits.
While high blood sugar alone will not lead to death or disability, chronic complications – which are highly preventable – can.
But the good news is: diabetics can live longer with improved health management and support. Greater awareness about potential complications is also shifting the health odds in favour of patients.
What causes diabetes complications?
When you have diabetes, your blood vessels could become badly damaged if you don’t keep your blood sugar level within the healthy range.
This is turn triggers many other more severe problems. For instance, as many diabetics also have high blood pressure and lower levels of good cholesterol, they run a greater risk of developing eye and kidney disease as well as stroke and heart disease. These are all diabetic complications.
As these complications affect many other body parts, including the nervous system, eyes, limbs and heart, diabetes is sometimes called the multi-organ disease. And they make coping with diabetes even more challenging.
The thing with these complications is that they’re often symptom-free. While a person may not feel very ill at the pre-diabetes or early stage of diabetes, complications can quietly creep in over time. So, the longer you’re diabetic and the less controlled your blood sugar levels, the greater your risk of developing complications or the more severe your complications.
Major risks due to diabetes complications
Diabetes-linked damage to blood vessels and nerves, particularly in the limbs, can cause severe infections.
What it can lead to : Amputations. To stop the infection from spreading, amputations may be advised. Singapore has one of the world’s highest rates of amputations of the toe/ foot/leg, with 4 amputations done in public hospitals daily3.
Extremely high blood sugar levels
When a diabetic’s blood sugar hits extremely high levels, they’re diagnosed with hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state (HHS). It’s a very acute condition commonly seen in the elderly, disabled or chronically ill and is caused by severe dehydration and illness.
What it can lead
High levels of blood acids
When a diabetic patient has high levels of blood acids, called ketones, they’re said to have diabetic ketoacidosis. It typically occurs when a patient has some other illness concurrently, such as fever or infections like pneumonia or a urinary tract infection. Other triggers include heart attack and physical and emotional trauma. It’s not unheard of for people to find out they’re diabetic only after experiencing diabetic ketoacidosis.
What it can lead to : Diabetic coma
Diabetic kidney disease
Also known as diabetic nephropathy, this causes a malfunction of the kidney which gets worse with time.
What it can lead
Kidney failure, which will require dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Eye disorders caused by damaged blood vessels in the eye are called diabetic retinopathy. The risk of diabetic retinopathy increases with the duration of your diabetes.
What it can lead
Blindness. In Singapore, diabetic retinopathy is the top cause of blindness among working-age adults, causing some 600 people to be totally blind, over 8,000 to lose their sight in one eye, and visual impairments in another 17,5004.
Diabetes is often associated with other cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure and decreased good cholesterol as well as obesity. This explains why diabetics are 2 to 4 times more likely to develop coronary artery disease and stroke than people without diabetes5. Coronary artery disease or blockage of blood vessels supplying blood to the heart is a leading cause of death in Type 2 diabetics. Diabetic smokers have an even higher risk of heart disease.
What it can lead
Heart attacks, heart failure or chest pain linked to heart disease.
Having one diabetic complication puts you at greater risk of developing other complications. So if blood vessels in your eyes are damaged, the same can happen to other parts of your body like your heart and kidneys. So, you’ll need to be extra vigilant about your health and medical follow-ups while managing your complication.
Getting the right protection
As diabetes is a chronic illness and has no cure, putting the brakes on complications through good dietary habits, exercise, regular medication and never skipping a check-up is a life-long commitment. But you never know when a diabetic complication could spring up on you. When it does, it could take a huge toll on your finances.
So if you’re a diabetic, it’s good to complement your wellness plan with a good insurance plan that covers diabetic complications. While there are now several plans in the market but most don’t cover individuals with pre-existing health condition like Type 2 Diabetes.
Aviva’s MyCoreCI Plan is a protection plan that cushions against the financial impact of 11 major critical illnesses such as heart attack, stroke, kidney failure and blindness, which can all be a result of various diabetic complications. It also provides an additional 20% of the sum assured (up to S$ 25,000 per condition) as a lump sum payout upon diagnosis of any one of the 4 diabetic conditions covered in MyCoreCI Plan, such as coma due to hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state (HHS) or limb amputation due to diabetic complications.
And if you manage your condition well without making a claim on any benefits, you’ll get a No Claim Reward of 20% of your total premiums paid back at the end of your policy term.
Now, ain’t that sweet!