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what is diabetes
Health 04.10.20 

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a lifelong condition that causes someone’s blood sugar level to become too high. There are 2 main types of diabetes:

  • type 1 diabetes – where the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin
  • type 2 diabetes – where the body does not produce enough insulin, or the body’s cells do not react to insulin

Type 2 diabetes is much more common than type 1. Around 90% of all adults with diabetes have type 2 (in the UK).

Pre-diabetes

Many people have blood sugar levels that are higher the normal range, but not high enough to be diagnosed as having diabetes. This is often known as pre-diabetes. If your blood sugar level is above the normal range, your risk of developing diabetes is increased. People that have pre-diabetes are encouraged to monitor what they eat to prevent getting diabetes in the future. It’s very important for diabetes to be diagnosed as early as possible because it will get progressively worse if left untreated.

When Should You See a Doctor About Diabetes?

It is important that you visit a GP as soon as possible if you experience the main symptoms of diabetes, these include:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Needing to wee more often than usual, particularly during the night
  • Feeling very tired/suffering from fatigue
  • Weight loss and muscle loss
  • Itching around your genitals
  • Cuts or wounds that heal slowly
  • Blurred vision

Type 1 diabetes can develop quickly over weeks or even days. Many people have type 2 diabetes for years without realising because the early symptoms tend to be general.

What Causes Diabetes?

The amount of sugar in the blood is controlled by a hormone called insulin, which is produced by the pancreas (a gland behind the stomach).

When food is digested and enters your bloodstream, insulin moves glucose out of the blood and into cells, where it’s broken down to produce energy. However, if you have diabetes, your body is unable to break down glucose into energy. This is because there’s either not enough insulin to move the glucose, or the insulin produced does not work properly.

There are no lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk of type 1 diabetes. However, you can help to manage type 2 diabetes through healthy eating, regular exercise and achieving a healthy body weight.

What is it like to Live With Diabetes?

People who suffer from diabetes need to eat healthily, regularly exercise and carry out regular blood tests to ensure their blood glucose levels stay balanced. You can use the NHS’s BMI healthy weight calculator to check whether you’re a healthy weight.

People diagnosed with type 1 diabetes also require regular insulin injections for the rest of their life. As type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition, medicine may eventually be required, usually in the form of tablets.

Diabetic Eye Screening

Everyone with diabetes aged 12 or over should be invited to have their eyes screened once a year. If you have diabetes, your eyes are at risk from diabetic retinopathy, a condition that can lead to sight loss if it’s not treated. Screening, which involves a 30-minute check to examine the back of the eyes, is a way of detecting the condition early so it can be treated more effectively. Read more about diabetic eye screening here.

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