What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a long-term health condition which is caused by an inability to control the levels of glucose in the blood, with diabetes causing the levels of blood glucose to become too high.  

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes

There are two types of diabetes; type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes develops as a result of the immune system attacking the cells that are responsible for producing insulin. This means that the body is unable to produce insulin and consequently blood sugar levels are elevated. Type 2 diabetes arises when the body doesn’t construct sufficient insulin to normalise blood sugar levels or the cells do not react to the insulin produced by the body in the right way. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas and allows glucose to enter the cells, which means that it can be broken down and used for energy. Insulin plays a vital role in the body and this is why it is so important that diabetes is treated and managed effectively.

How common is diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is much more common than type 1 diabetes. Of the 2.8 million people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK, 90% of adults have type 2 diabetes.

What causes diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is caused by an immune system response to the cells that produce insulin. The immune system attacks and destroys the cells that make insulin and this means that blood sugar levels in the body are too high. It is unknown why this response occurs in some people and not in others.

Type 2 diabetes is often related to lifestyle factors, such as diet and activity. Several risk factors have been identified but risk factors are not causes, they are merely factors that increase your risk of developing a disease. Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include:

  • Being overweight
  • Being of African-Caribbean, South Asian or Middle-Eastern heritage
  • Family history
  • High blood pressure

How does diabetes affect the body?

Diabetes prevents glucose from entering the cells, which means it cannot be used as fuel for the body. This action cannot happen because there is either no insulin (type 1 diabetes) or there is not enough insulin (type 2 diabetes). The absence of insulin means that the blood glucose levels are too high. When the levels of sugar in the blood are too high this is known as hyperglycaemia. Symptoms of hyperglycaemia include blurred vision, being very thirsty, tiredness and weight loss.

Symptoms of diabetes include:

  • An unquenchable thirst
  • Tiredness and weakness
  • Urinating more frequently than usual (especially at night)
  • Weight loss
  • Itching and bouts of thrush
  • Blurred vision

If you have these symptoms you should se your doctor as it is important that diabetes is brought under control as quickly as possible.

Treating diabetes

The body cannot make its own insulin so insulin is injected at intervals throughout the day to enable the body to control blood glucose levels. Treatment for type 2 diabetes often begins with lifestyle changes, such as diet which may be sufficient to bringing symptoms under control. If this is not sufficient medication may be used to control symptoms or insulin may be injected. Treatment for diabetes is usually very effective as long as patients follow the advice of their care team.

Your Guide to diabetes

How is diabetes diagnosed and what are the symptoms?

What are the risk factors for diabetes?

What treatments are available for diabetes?

What is type 1 diabetes?

What is type 2 diabetes?

How does diabetes affect children?

What does the daily care routine with diabetes involve?

How does the management and sysmptoms of diabetes change with age?

Do I need a special diabetic diet?

How is diabetes monitored and kept under control?

How are the major symptoms of diabetes prevented?

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