Focus on: Diabetes

Mark Sutton cycling on his bike

Type 2 diabetes affects more than four million people in the UK, and can lead to serious health issues. Katherine Woods speaks to Mark Sutton about his diagnosis and heart problems.

When Mark Sutton started feeling unwell in December 2015, type 2 diabetes was the last thing on his mind. “I was in a meeting at work and I was sweating like never before. I felt terrible, so I saw my GP who said it was probably a virus,” says Mark. He was 39, working in sales for Sony PlayStation, and living in south-west London with his wife Michelle and young sons Bobby and Tommy.

I was in a meeting at work and I was sweating like never before. I felt terrible

Diagnosis of type 2 diabetes

He continued feeling unwell, and five months later he noticed he was getting out of breath on his daily walk to the train station. “I remember feeling thirsty and exhausted all the time too, and I started getting up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet,” he says. Returning to the doctor, Mark was shocked with a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.
 
Professor Mark Kearney, BHF Professor of Cardiovascular and Diabetes Research at the University of Leeds, explains there are two main types of diabetes, both of which cause too much sugar to accumulate in the blood. “Type 1 usually occurs in younger people when the pancreas is no longer able to produce insulin (a hormone that lowers your blood sugar levels after eating).
 
Type 2, which accounts for 90 per cent of cases, develops later in life and occurs because the body stops responding to insulin.” The main symptoms of diabetes include going to the toilet more, thirst, fatigue, blurred vision and wounds taking longer to heal, advises Professor Kearney. If you notice any of these, visit your GP for a blood sugar test.
 
Being overweight and not exercising enough increases your risk of diabetes, and your risk also increases over the age of 40,” explains Professor Kearney. “Your background also makes a difference – people of South Asian, African- Caribbean or Black African descent are two to four times more likely to develop type 2, and family history can increase your risk.”
 
Mark hadn’t realised he was at risk. “I thought I was relatively healthy. I was carrying a bit of extra weight at 16.5 stone but I walked daily, had a good diet and wasn’t a big drinker.” However, looking back, Mark says he can see he hadn’t been making time for exercise since having children.

Mark Sutton with his wife and children at the dining room table

Diabetes complications

“Diabetes can lead to serious health problems because having too much sugar in the blood can damage blood vessels and nerves all around your body,” explains Professor Kearney. People with diabetes are two to three times more likely to develop heart and circulatory disease, and 65 per cent more likely to develop heart failure. “Tightly controlling your diabetes can reduce your risk of complications.”
 
Mark was prescribed metformin tablets, the most common medication used to control type 2 diabetes, and a statin to lower his cholesterol. Losing weight is another important way to improve blood sugar control, and Mark was determined to change his lifestyle. “I signed up to forums, researched foods and wrote down what I was eating. I realised things I thought were healthy – a bowl of cereal and orange juice for breakfast – were actually full of sugar.”

Quadruple bypass

Despite beginning to manage his diabetes, Mark still felt unwell and in October 2016 he saw a cardiologist. An angiogram a week before his 40th birthday revealed that some of the coronary arteries supplying his heart were almost completely blocked. “They told me I was very close to having a heart attack and that I needed a quadruple bypass,” he says. “Having a young family and not knowing what the future held, this was hard to take.”Mark had his operation and, after nine days in hospital, returned home to begin his recovery.

Staying active after surgery

“I set myself daily targets for walking and increased the target each week,” Mark explains. He also attended cardiac rehabilitation. “It was great – people with different experiences all trying to get back on their feet. One thing I took away was to just keep moving. I realised that 30 minutes of cardio five times a week is only one per cent of my time, so it’s the least I can do.”
 
The right lifestyle changes can make a real difference. “Studies have shown that, for some people, a low-calorie diet can reverse type 2 diabetes, and the NHS recently announced plans to test this approach in 5,000 people with type 2 diabetes in England,” says Professor Kearney.
 
A year after his quadruple bypass, Mark’s doctor said he could stop taking metformin as his blood sugar levels were no longer raised. “That was a big moment for me, knowing I could control my diabetes with diet and exercise,” says Mark. As part of his recovery, Mark discovered a love for cycling. Last year he took on the BHF London to Brighton Bike Ride, and this year he’s training for the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey race in August, cycling 100 miles to raise money for the BHF.
 

Diabetes risks

The damage that diabetes can cause to blood vessels means that people are at particular risk of eye problems (because there are so many tiny blood vessels in the eyes) as well as problems with circulation in their feet. In March 2018, an eye test picked up a cataract in Mark’s left eye and he later had an operation to remove it.
 
“I’m lucky I found out about my diabetes in time, before I had a heart attack,” he explains. “I’ve got a lot to feel positive about. I want to lead a healthy lifestyle so I can see Bobby and Tommy grow up. Maybe one day they will cycle the London to Brighton with me – that would be incredible. These moments and spending time with Michelle are what I want to be around for.”

Cycling to find cures

Mark found that getting sponsored to do the London to Brighton Bike Ride gave him the motivation he needed to cycle regularly.

This year he’s taking on the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100, cycling 100 miles on 4 August. Find out more about our bike rides.

 

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