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What is diabetes?

Updated: December 2018

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes

Diabetes is a disease in which your blood glucose (sugar) levels are too high. There are two types.

Type 1 diabetes happens when your immune system attacks and destroys insulin, the hormone that controls your level of glucose and helps it to enter the cells of your body, where it’s used as energy. People with this type of diabetes require daily injections of insulin.

In type 2 diabetes, your body either doesn’t produce enough insulin, or your cells don’t react to it. This is known as insulin resistance. Type 2 diabetes is far more common: 90 percent of people with diabetes fall into this category.

In prediabetes, your blood sugar is higher than normal, but not so high that you’re regarded as having diabetes. It indicates that you may get type 2 diabetes unless you make lifestyle changes.

Symptoms of diabetes

Because diabetes develops very gradually, you may not have any symptoms at first. However, you may notice the following:

·       You’re hungrier than normal

·       You’re thirstier than normal

·       You’re more tired than normal

·       You lose weight for no apparent reason

·       You have to pee more frequently

Causes of diabetes

Medical communities are still not sure exactly what causes diabetes, but there are several risk factors. These are:

  • Being overweight. If you have a body mass index of over 25, you’re more likely to develop prediabetes, especially if the extra weight is concentrated around your middle.
  • Not getting enough exercise. Activity helps you to maintain a healthy weight, use up more glucose, and make better use of insulin.
  • Family history. There is a hereditary component to diabetes.
  • Ethnicity. Type 2 diabetes is six times more common in people of South Asian descent, and three times more prevalent in people from an Afro-Caribbean background.
  • Age. The likelihood of becoming prediabetic rises after the age of 45, and increases sharply after 65.
  • Other medical conditions. High blood pressure and high cholesterol increase your chances of getting type 2 diabetes.
  • Pregnancy.  Gestational diabetes may occur when your body is unable to meet the extra needs of being pregnant. This increases the probability of getting type 2 diabetes later on. Alternatively, the disease may have been present before the pregnancy.

Diabetes is becoming increasingly common in children

There are over 22,000 children under 17 with diabetes in England. The vast majority, 97 percent, have type 1 diabetes, but the first instances of type 2 diabetes in this age group have emerged in recent years.

Complications diabetes can cause

If not identified early and well managed, diabetes increases the probability of several conditions.

  • Cardiovascular disease. Diabetes makes you more likely to have heart disease, stroke, and other diseases of the circulatory system. It is important to monitor blood pressure regularly if you have diabetes. OMRON offers blood pressure monitors which are clinically validated for use in people with diabetes.
  • Kidney disease. This is much more common in people with diabetes and high blood pressure.
  • Eye disease. People with diabetes are more likely to be affected by retinopathy, which damages the blood vessels supplying the retina.
  • Amputation. Diabetes can affect the nerves, muscles, and circulation in the legs and feet.

How is diabetes managed?

Nutrition. A healthy, balanced diet, high in fruit, vegetables, healthy carbohydrates, protein, and lower-fat dairy foods, can help to keep your keep your blood sugar under control.

Regular exercise can reduce the chances of developing type 2 diabetes by 40 percent. It helps you to maintain a healthy weight, increases the amount of glucose used by your body to produce energy, and helps it to use insulin effectively.

Insulin. Everyone with type 1 diabetes, and some people with type 2 diabetes, will be treated with insulin to control their blood sugar levels. This may be administered by injection or using a pump.

Other medications. People with both types of diabetes may need medication to control the disease itself and their blood pressure and blood fats. Drugs can help your body to produce more insulin and metabolise glucose more effectively.


References:

Diabetes Digital Media (2018). Diabetes and obesity. Retrieved from www.diabetes.co.uk/diabetes-and-obesity.html

British Diabetic Association. Diabetes: The basic. Retrieved from www.diabetes.org.uk/diabetes-the-basics

British Diabetic Association. Diabetes and blood pressure. Retrieved from www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/managing-your-diabetes/blood-pressure

Foundation of European Nurses in Diabetes (2014). Diabetes in Europe. Retrieved from www.fend.org/sites/fend.org/files/ECD-PP4finalweb.pdf