Healthy Living NT


Diabetes Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Of the diet cola drinks - Coke Zero, Pepsi Max and so on - is there one that is better option to drink?

A: Fizzy or soft drinks are not recomended as a regular part of healthy eating. If you are going to drink soft drinks, then the die or no sugar drinks are better option. No particular diet cola is recomended over another.

Q: I have type 2 diabetes, can I still donate blood?

A: The Australian Rd Cross states that if your diabetes is well managed by either diet and/or oral medications and you have no complications such as, eye, blood vessel related or kidney problems then you are still able to donate blood. For those on insulin, you can find out your eligibility by phoning their hotline, but this should not be a problem unless you have used bovine (cattle-derived) insulin in the past. Bovine insulins were used prior to the 1980s. You can call Medical Services on 13 14 95 or access their website: to find out if you are eligible to donate.

Q: I don’t have diabetes, my doctor just told me I have a ‘touch of sugar’ but what does this mean?

A: This is a common statement by people sent to see us and without any pathology test results it is hard for us to determine what the doctor may mean by this. What we do know is that there is no such thing as a ‘touch of sugar’. Therefore, this could mean you have pre-diabetes or you may in fact have type 2 diabetes but that the test result was only just over the diagnostic mark. Another common saying is that people have ‘borderline’ diabetes, again this refers to their glucose levels being close to the diagnostic mark. We would encourage anyone told they have a touch of sugar or borderline diabetes to discuss this further with their doctor or obtain their pathology results and to make an appointment to see the educators at Healthy Living NT.

Q: Which is better – brown, white or raw sugar?

A: The short answer is they’re all the same. Sugars are carbohydrates and like all carbohydrate they provide a source of energy in the form of glucose in our diet. Raw or brown sugars are thought to be ‘healthier’ than white sugar because of their colour. This is not the case. All sugars are made up of sucrose. The difference in colour relates to the amount of processing the sucrose has gone through, ie; where the crystal size and molasses content (and therefore colour) are changed; the additional nutrients in the sugars with the presence of extra molasses are minimal and the energy or kilojoule content remain the same between the different types. As with all carbohydrates, excess energy will be stored by the body as fat. 

Sugar is considered ‘empty’ kilojoules as it does not provide any beneficial nutrients. Too much sugar in the diet can contribute to health problems including obesity and tooth decay and can make it difficult to manage blood glucose levels within target range in diabetes.  The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommends that all Australians limit their intake of foods and drinks containing added sugars such as confectionary, sugar-sweetened soft drinks and cordials and fruit drinks.

Q: I have diabetes, should I monitor my Blood Glucose Levels (BGLs) at home?

A: This is very individual for everyone. Your doctor may have recommended for you to self monitor your BGLs. This often means that they would see the information gathered to be important in your individual diabetes management plan. There are pros and cons to self monitoring and of course, if the testing is either done with tests that are not useful (ie; taken at the wrong time of day) or are not acted upon, then the act of self monitoring is pointless. If you are self monitoring BGLs  but don’t think you are getting the most out of it, or are interested but want to know what would actually help in your diabetes management, see your diabetes educator. Make the effort of self monitoring BGLs worth it.

Q: What is the difference between Blood Glucose Levels and Blood Sugar Levels?

A: Glucose is a type of sugar that is made in a person’s body from the breakdown of carbohydrate found in the diet. It is not the same type of sugar that is used in coffee, cakes or sweets (sucrose). The terms blood glucose levels and blood sugar levels are sometimes used interchangeably to describe the amount of glucose in your blood. This can be confusing for some people as the term ‘blood sugar’ is often mistaken for ordinary sugar (sucrose) that you buy from the shops. For this reason, we encourage people to use the term blood glucose levels to avoid confusion.

Q: Can I use a lancet more than once?

A: Yes, but it is not recommended. It is advised that you change your lancet after each use, as they are designed for single use only. Each time you re-use a lancet the needle starts to blunt. If you continue to use the blunt needle you may encounter the following problems; increased pain on testing, lack of finger sensitivity, callus development, bruising and scarring.

Q: Can I break my tablets or capsules in half to make them easier to swallow?

A: Not all tablets or capsules can be safely broken in half. Some tablets have a special coating to contain the medicine and to control how quickly the medicine is released to the body. The coating is designed to dissolve slowly in the body and also to make sure the medicine is delivered to the right part of the gut to be absorbed properly. If the coating is damaged by breaking, cutting or crushing, all of the medicine will be released immediately into your body or will be delivered to the wrong part of the gut and won’t be absorbed properly. This can have severe side effects. Even if a tablet has a scored line in the middle it is important that you consult with your doctor or pharmacist before crushing or breaking any tablet or capsules.

Q: Where do I dispose of my sharps (needle/ lancets)?

A: For people with diabetes who monitor their blood glucose levels or inject insulin, the correct disposal of sharps associated with this, within the community is vitally important. It is strongly recommended that you use a commercially appropriate sharps container which meets Australian standards for this. The use of soft plastic bottles or containers or glass bottles is NOT recommended. Sharps themselves and sharps containers should also be disposed of correctly and not in the general garbage where they may pose a danger to other people. Sharps containers are available for purchase from Healthy Living NT offices in Darwin and Alice Springs and can be returned to these offices when full, plus most local pharmacies. In remote communities containers are often available from local health clinics. The correct disposal of full sharps containers is vitally important. The following NTAHC (NT Aids and Hepatitis Council) offices within the Northern Territory have disposal bin facilities for all sharps containers; Darwin: 46 Woods St, Darwin. Phone 08 8944 7777 Palmerston: Palmerston Health Precinct, 3 Gurd St, Palmerston. Phone 08 8931 3676 Alice Springs: 14 Railway Tce. Phone 08 8953 2925

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Cardiac Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is an ECG?

A: Most clients reading this will probably have had an ECG (electrocardiogram) taken by their doctor, specialist or while in hospital, but what is it? To answer what an ECG is we first have to understand a little bit about how the heart works. The normal rhythm of the heart is called sinus rhythm. The top chambers of the heart are called atria and the bottom two chambers ventricles. In sinus rhythm, the sinus node (located in the top right atria) generates an electrical signal, which travels across both atria, causing these chambers to contract. This contraction pumps blood from the top two atria to the bottom two ventricles.

In the normal heart the only point where an electrical signal can pass from the atria to the ventricles is called the atrioventricular node (AV node). This node acts as a time delay (approximately 0.2 seconds) which gives the blood enough time to be pumped into the ventricles. After the delay it sends the electrical signal through to cause both the right and left ventricle to contract, which pumps the blood out to the lungs from the right side, and through the aorta to the body from the left side. This whole cycle is one heart beat, which we can hear as the ‘Lub Dub’ sound of the heart.

An ECG is a tracing of the electrical activity of the heart over a period of time to capture a series of heart beats in a row. The faster the heart is beating the more complexes (heart beats) seen in the ECG and we can calculate the speed (rate) of the heart by counting them. The normal heart beat makes a distinct pattern which medial and nursing staff can recognise immediately. Slight changes to the ‘normal’ pattern can indicate to health professionals different problems which may be happening to your heart. We can identify if people have arrhythmias (abnormal heart beats), if someone is having a heart attack, have had old heart attacks, some congenital problems or valve problems and even inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart to name a few.

An ECG is just a snapshot of what was happening to your heart at that time, so for some problems, the ECG may not show anything abnormal (i.e. it can’t tell if the racing heart beat you felt yesterday was a rhythm problem). ECGs are one of many tests used by health professionals to diagnose different problems and you may be asked to have one in conjunction with other tests. To have an ECG you will be asked to lie on a bed. Four leads are attached to stickers on your arms and legs and six to your chest, around your heart area (so you may need to remove or unbutton your top, take off your bra if wearing one and sometimes you will need to have some chest hair shaved to get the best contact for the stickers). Once attached to the machine you will be asked to lie still to get the best tracing (movement interrupts the signal). Once the person taking the ECG is happy with the tracing they have captured, they will unhook you from the ECG machine and the best thing is an ECG doesn’t hurt a bit!

Q: I get pains in my chest. How do I know if it’s my heart or something else?

A: Sometimes it’s hard to tell yourself if pains in your chest are something to worry about or not. If the pain is coming from your heart, only rest, calm deep breathing and anginine (heart medication) will relieve the pain, as it is the heart muscle not getting enough blood supply causing the pain. If you find that the pain is worse when you breathe deeply, when you lie on one side or is worse when you press the area with your fingers, it’s more likely to be a muscular pain. Most importantly, if you think it could be your heart and it is not relieved with rest for 15 minutes, call an ambulance and go to the hospital. If you are having a heart attack, the quicker you get treatment, the less damage done to your heart.

Q: How long does a pacemaker last for?

A: On average a pacemaker generator lasts 6-8 years but it all depends on how much work the pacemaker is required to do. Most pacemakers are set to fire only when the person's own heartbeat is not working properly. This means some pacemakers do more work than others and the more work done the shorter the device will last. Once a person has a pacemaker inserted, it is important that they have regular check-ups by a cardiologist or pacemaker technician to:

• Measure the amount of battery power left

• Assess the function of the pacemaker and check the settings

• Make sure that there are no problems with the pacemaker generator or leads

Q: How often should I have my Blood Pressure checked?

A: If your blood pressure is 'normal' (less than 120/80) and you have no personal or family history of high blood pressure, the Heart Foundation recommends a check every two years and doing routine visits to your doctor. If it is 140/90 or higher, or you have a personal or family history of high blood pressure, stroke or heart attack, it is best to have it checked more often, as advised by your doctor. If your blood pressure is high on several occasions it is important to have it checked often, especially if your doctor has prescribed medication. Your doctor may want to see you more often (e.g. every two weeks) until your blood pressure is controlled, then every 1-3 months until it is stable and regularly thereafter.

Q: What is angina?

A: Angina is the chest pain a person experiences when not enough blood is getting to their heart muscle. This often happens when people have plaque build up within their coronary (heart) arteries and can also happen due to the artery spasming. Plaque build up can restrict the amount of blood able to get past it. Often when people have this, the pain will be felt when they are being more active, like when they walk up stairs or run. For someone without coronary artery disease, the heart would then beat faster and more blood would be pushed down the arteries. For people with plaque build up, the extra blood that the heart muscle needs can not get to the muscle due to the blockage. This causes chest pain, which is basically the heart muscle saying it needs more blood and oxygen.

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