What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder

Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose, or sugar, for our bodies to use for energy.

The pancreas, an organ that lies near the stomach, makes a hormone called insulin to help glucose get into the cells of our bodies.

When you have diabetes, your body either doesn't make enough insulin or can't use its own insulin as well as it should.

This causes sugars to build up in the blood.

Diabetes can cause serious health complications including heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, and lower-extremity amputations.

Diabetes is predicted by a clear set of symptoms, but it still often goes undiagnosed.

The main 3 diabetes signs are:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased need to urinate
  • Increased hunger

Diabetes is becoming increasingly more common throughout the world, due to increased obesity - which can lead to metabolic syndrome or pre-diabetes leading to higher incidences of type 2 diabetes.

Definition of Diabetes
Diabetes is the name used to describe a metabolic condition of having higher than normal blood sugar levels. There are different reasons why people get high blood glucose levels and so a number of different types of diabetes exist.

How many diabetics are there?

According to the IDF, the number of diabetics in the world stands at 365 million people, representing around 8.5% of the global population.

Transcript

The main two reasons for diabetes are either: the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or the body cannot use its insulin effectively enough.

Insulin is a hormone which helps glucose in the blood to fuel the cells of our body. If we don’t have enough insulin, or our insulin doesn’t work effectively, we won’t be as energetic and we’ll have high blood sugar levels.

Type 1 diabetes is when the body kills off its own insulin producing cells. Type 2 diabetes is when our insulin isn’t working as effectively as it should.

Gestational diabetes, which shares characteristics of type 2 diabetes but comes on specifically during pregnancy and may often go way after pregnancy. Other types of diabetes exist as well and diabetes can be brought on by other illnesses such as cancer of the pancreas.
No, you can’t catch diabetes off someone.

The type of treatment you receive depends on the type of diabetes. People with type 1 diabetes will take insulin. People with type 2 may not need any medication, or they may be put onto tablets or they could be put onto injections.

Sadly not yet. Once you get diabetes you will have it for life. However, people with type 2 diabetes may come off medication with changes to lifestyle and diet.

There are approximately 2.9 million diabetic people in the UK according to Diabetes UK, and there's thought to be around 500,000 people who may be diabetic but currently undiagnosed. [1]

Diabetes overview

Diabetes is a common hormonal problem that if untreated can lead to diabetes complications such as diabetic neuropathy, kidney problems, heart problems, retinopathy and other disorders. At advanced stages, diabetes can cause kidney failure, amputation, blindness and stroke.

However, complications can be prevented or significantly delayed by exercising good control of diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol. See our information on how to avoid complications.

What are the two major types of diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes (insulin-dependent) requires insulin to treat, is typically developed as a child or young adult, and is a disease that destroys pancreatic cells meaning no insulin production is possible.

Type 2 diabetes (non-insulin dependent diabetes) is considerably more common and typically affects people over the age of 45, who are also overweight. Those suffering from type 2 are unable to produce enough insulin, and sugar builds up in the bloodstream.

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes symptoms often appear suddenly and include:

  • High levels of sugar in the blood and urine
  • Frequent urination
  • Hunger
  • Thirst
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Tiredness
  • Mood swings
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Type 2 diabetes symptoms include thirst and regular need to urinate, tiredness, irritability and nausea. Skin infections, blurry vision, tingling or dry skin are also relatively common symptoms.

With type 2 diabetes, the symptoms can come on very gradually and it’s important not to be tempted to dismiss the symptoms as simply getting

How is diabetes controlled?

Type 1 diabetes is controlled with insulin, either by regular injections of insulin or through wearing an insulin pump which drips insulin into the body through the day.

Type 2 diabetes can be controlled through diet and exercise, , although it is common for people with type 2 diabetes to need medication such as tablets or injections to help them to keep their blood sugar levels within the normal range.

I’m worried that I may have diabetes, what should I do?

If you are concerned about your health, see a doctor as soon as possible. Diabetes UK, the leading UK diabetes charity, also operate a Diabetes Careline.