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Diabetes is the name given to a group of different conditions in which there is too much glucose (sugar) in the blood. The pancreas either cannot make insulin or the insulin it does make is not enough and cannot work properly. Without insulin doing its job, glucose builds up in the blood leading to high blood glucose levels which can lead to complications. 

Here is what happens

• The body needs a special sugar called glucose as its main source of fuel or energy. The body gets glucose from foods containing carbohydrate such as breads, breakfast cereals, rice, pasta, potatoes, milk, yoghurt and fruit.


• The glucose is carried around the body in the blood – the level should not go too high or too low. When the glucose goes above a certain evel, some has to move out of the blood and into the body tissues to supply the energy the cells need to keep your body working properly. Some glucose is also stored in the liver (like you would store food items in the kitchen pantry) so that it can be used later if needed. When the glucose 

level drops too low, some of the glucose stored in the liver is released into the blood to bring the level back up again.


• Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas, a gland sitting just below the stomach. Insulin is like a key that opens the “doors” (glucose hannels) of the body cells and allows the glucose to move from the blood into the cells where it can be used for energy. This process is called glucose metabolism.


• In diabetes, the pancreas either cannot make insulin or the insulin it does make cannot work properly.


• Without insulin doing its job, the glucose hannels are shut. Glucose builds up in the blood leading to high blood glucose levels which can lead to complications from diabetes.

What are the main symptoms of diabetes?

In type 1 diabetes, symptoms are often sudden and can be life-threatening, therefore it is usually diagnosed quite quickly. In type 2 diabetes, many people have no symptoms at all, while other signs can go unnoticed because they are seen as part of ‘getting older’. Therefore, by the time symptoms are noticed, complications of diabetes may already be present.

Common symptoms include:

• Being more thirsty than usual

• Going to the toilet more often, especially at night.

• Feeling tired and lethargic

• Always feeling hungry.

• Having cuts that heal slowly

• Itching, skin infections or rashes.

• Blurred vision

• Unexplained weight loss (type 1).

• Weight changes

• Mood swings.

• Headaches

• Feeling dizzy.

• Pain or tingling in the legs or feet.

There are two main types of diabetes – type 1 & type 2.


Type 1

This used to be called insulin dependent diabetes or juvenile diabetes. However this was confusing as many people with type 2 diabetes also need insulin to manage their diabetes.While type 1 diabetes can and does occur at any age, it’s usually diagnosed in children and young adults. Type 1 diabetes is the less common form of diabetes, affecting just 10–15% of all people with diabetes.

In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin because the cells that make the insulin have been destroyed by the body’s own immune system. This insulin must be replaced. Therefore people with type 1 diabetes must have insulin every day to live. At present insulin can only be given by injection or by infusion via an insulin pump, but other methods of getting it may be possible in the future.


Who is most likely to develop type 1 diabetes?

We don’t yet know the exact cause of type 1 diabetes but we do know it has a family link. However it can only occur when something such as a viral infection triggers the immune system to destroy the insulin-making cells in the pancreas. This is called an autoimmune reaction.

While the cause of type 1 diabetes has nothing to do with lifestyle, a healthy lifestyle is very important in helping to manage the condition.


Can type 1 diabetes be prevented or cured?

While a great deal of research is being done, at this stage nothing can be done to prevent or cure type 1 diabetes.


Type 2

This used to be called non-insulin dependent diabetes or mature-age onset diabetes. It is by far the most common form, occurring in 85–90% of all people with diabetes. While adults are usually affected, more and more younger people, even children, are now developing type 2 diabetes. Lifestyle choices can contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes. It is strongly associated with high blood pressure, abnormal blood fats and the classic ‘apple shape’ body where there is extra weight around the waist.

People with type 2 diabetes are usually insulin resistant. This means that their pancreas is making insulin but the insulin is not working as well as it should. The pancreas responds by working harder to make more insulin. Eventually it can’t make enough to keep the glucose balance right and blood glucose levels rise.

Adopting a healthy lifestyle may delay the need for tablets and/or insulin. However it is important to know that if you do need tablets and/or insulin, this is just the natural progression of the condition. By taking tablets and/or insulin as soon as they are needed, the risk of developing complications caused by diabetes can be reduced.


Who is most likely to develop type 2 diabetes?

While there is no single cause for developing type 2 diabetes, there are well known risk factors. Some of these can be changed and some cannot.

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