National Healthcare Group data shows spike in diabetes patients

Cases jumped 14% from 2010 to 2013; Malays and Indians struggle to cope

DIABETES is spiking, if the number of patients seeking treatment at the National Healthcare Group (NHG) is any indication.

NHG also says that the problem is worse for Malays and Indians, who are also not managing their condition as well as their Chinese counterparts.

The number of diabetics treated at NHG shot up from 96,970 in 2010 to 110,554 in 2013 - a jump of 14 per cent.

What's more, Malay and Indian patients seem to be struggling to manage their condition.

Only about 70 per cent of Malay and Indian diabetic patients were able to maintain good haemoglobin A1 (HbA1c) levels of within 8 per cent, as compared to 81 per cent of Chinese patients, according to data from 2013.

Dr Matthias Toh, a public health physician at NHG, suspects that this could be due to differences in dietary habits, which he said could also be linked to the higher incidence of obesity in the Malay and Indian community.

"Perhaps the Malay and Indian lifestyle in terms of food could have more carbohydrates and even cholesterol that leads to poorer glycemic control," he said.

Diabetes, when not controlled, can lead to complications such as eye and kidney diseases, heart attacks and gangrene caused by poor blood circulation - which when severe could result in the amputation of limbs.

And in Singapore, the incidence of diabetes could rise as the population ages, said Dr Toh.

He said that 20 per cent of NHG patients aged between 70 and 74 have diabetes, compared to just 3.6 per cent of those between 40 and 44 years old. Among those aged below 40, under 2 per cent have diabetes.

"So we expect that the overall proportion of diabetic patients will increase further as our population grows older," he said.

But he stressed that with proper management, patients can lead perfectly normal lives, apart from routine medication. His advice: Exercise regularly, cut out sweetened beverages and not to smoke.

The key is to get the condition in control early, said Dr Toh, which is what Ms Foo Sau Wah, 62, came to learn after poor medication compliance caused her diabetes to worsen to the point that she needs two insulin injections a day.

But now the administrator makes sure she clocks around half an hour of walking each day, and has cut down on sweetened drinks. And it has worked.

"It is the first time I have reduced my medication (in 13 years) I hope everything is good at my next check-up," she said.

samboh@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 17, 2015, with the headline 'NHG data shows spike in diabetes patients'. Print Edition | Subscribe