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What is diabetes?

“What is diabetes?” might have been the first question you had when you were diagnosed. It might be the first question a family member or friend asks. Essentially, diabetes is too much glucose (sugar) in the blood.

The main thing to remember is that diabetes is too much glucose (sugar) in the blood. More specifically, diabetes is when the body does not make enough insulin or is unable to use it.

What causes diabetes?

Establishing a root cause for diabetes is very individual. Everyone has different lifestyles and habits that could contribute to the condition. There are risk factors that can increase the chances of diabetes. Having these factors does not mean diabetes is certain. However, knowing the risk factors and early warning signs can help you take preventative action. If you can identify diabetes early enough, you and your healthcare provider can establish a treatment plan.

Some risk factors include:
Some symptoms and signs include:
• Weight gain • Cold sweat
• Infections • Fatigue and tiredness
• Pregnancy • Palpitations
• Surgeries • Frequent urination and in large quantities
• Aging • Slow healing
  • Heavy thirst
  • Extreme hunger

What are the different types of diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is present in 5 to 10% of people with diabetes and is usually diagnosed in children and adolescents. It is caused by the destruction (by mistake) of the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, which means it can no longer produce insulin. In these cases, the treatment requires the use of insulin.

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90 to 95% of all people with diabetes. The body either cannot make enough insulin or is unable to use it properly. Type 2 diabetes is mainly diagnosed in adults (over 40 years old). Because it often presents with few symptoms, it can progress for many years without being diagnosed.

Type 2 diabetes can be connected with obesity and a sedentary lifestyle but it is important to remember that this isn’t always the case. In most cases, it is treated with diet and lifestyle changes. Tablets are also used for treatment, but in some cases insulin may be required.

Find out more about type 1 diabetes by watching our "Introduction to diabetes" video

Gestational diabetes

For some women, when they are pregnant, gestational diabetes can occur. Hormone changes can cause the body to have difficulty using insulin. Most of the time, this type of diabetes goes away after the baby is born. However, it does put you at a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life.

Remember, diabetes is not your fault or something to blame yourself for. You are facing an unexpected change—but one you have the opportunity to manage. Managing your diabetes may require lifestyle changes. In some cases, it might also include medication and/ or insulin.

What happens after a diabetes diagnosis?

Depending on the type of diabetes you have, you might be advised around diet and lifestyle changes. Treatments for diabetes can vary from tablets to insulin depending on the person.

Your healthcare professional will probably introduce you to checking your blood sugar. Most people check their blood sugar by pricking a finger to apply a small drop of blood to a test strip. The test strip is then inserted into a measuring device called a blood glucose meter.

What does insulin do?

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. Insulin is created as part of the food digestion process and plays a very important role. It allows the sugar in the blood to enter the cells and controls the amount of sugar. When food is digested and begins to enter your bloodstream, insulin will move glucose into the cells. The glucose is broken down for energy.

Without insulin, glucose remains in the blood. As the levels of glucose increase, it results in hyperglycemia. At this stage, the body begins to show signs that something is not going well. In diabetes, your body cannot break down glucose into energy due to a lack of insulin.

28 October 2020