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What is diabetes?

Diabetes currently affects 415 million adults worldwide and is expected to affect 642 million by 2040.1 In the UK, there are currently over 3.5 million people with diabetes and it is estimated that up to a million people with type 2 diabetes have the condition and don't know it.2 Even though diabetes affects over 5% of the world’s population,3 many people know very little about the disease.

There are three main types of diabetes:

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes occurs when your immune system destroys the cells in the pancreas that create insulin.4 As a result, the body makes very little or no insulin of its own and people with type 1 diabetes must take insulin daily. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children or young adults, although it can occur at any age.

The onset of type 1 diabetes is often sudden and can include the following symptoms:

  • Abnormal thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Extreme tiredness/lack of energy
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Slow-healing wounds
  • Recurrent infections
  • Blurred vision

A person with type 1 diabetes supplies their body with insulin in one of the following ways:

  • Insulin pump
  • Insulin pen
  • Injections with a syringe

Insulin therapy along with following a healthy diet, regular physical activity and frequent blood glucose monitoring all play an important role in managing type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes represents more than 90% of all diabetes cases.4 Type 2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not make enough insulin, or the body cannot properly use the insulin it does create. Eventually, the pancreas may stop producing insulin altogether.

Type 2 diabetes can affect people at any age. Because type 2 diabetes develops slowly and is often hard to detect, many people are not diagnosed until various complications appear. Additional risk factors or characteristics for type 2 diabetes include:

  • Family history of diabetes
  • History of gestational diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Race/Ethnicity such as African-Caribbean, or South Asian background

Depending on its severity, type 2 diabetes may be managed through diet and physical activity alone, oral medications, or insulin injections, though your healthcare professional may prescribe a combination of these therapies. Self-monitoring of your blood glucose can help measure the success of your therapy and your control of diabetes.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes occurs when pregnancy hormones and weight gain block a woman's body's ability to use insulin properly. Gestational diabetes can lead to high blood pressure for the mother and high birth weight for the baby. There is also an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes for both mother and baby in the future. The baby may also be at higher risk of childhood obesity.5

You can reduce these risks by maintaining a reasonable weight, staying physically active and making healthy food choices.6 See your healthcare professional to create a management plan that is right for you and your baby.

What is hyperglycaemia?

Hyperglycaemia, or high blood glucose, occurs when blood glucose rises above your usually recommended range. Your healthcare professional will help you determine the proper healthy blood glucose range for your circumstances.

High blood glucose can be caused by many things, including:

  • Eating too much food
  • Little or no physical activity
  • Not taking insulin and/or other medications
  • Stress, infection or illness
  • Bad or spoiled insulin
  • Over treating a hypo

High blood glucose can cause serious problems and a major cause of long-term diabetes complications. Warning signs of high blood sugar include:

  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Blurred vision
  • Dry mouth or skin
  • Slow-healing cuts and sores
  • Unexplained weight loss

It is important to keep your blood glucose level within your target range. Checking your blood glucose often may help you avoid hyperglycaemia.

If you want to know more about hyperglycaemia, click here for advice from the NHS.

What is hypoglycaemia?

Hypoglycaemia occurs when your blood glucose levels drop too low, below 4 mmol/l.

Low blood glucose may occur if your meal or snack is delayed or missed, after vigorous physical activity, or if too much insulin is given. In a person without diabetes, the pancreas will stop producing insulin if the blood glucose level falls below normal. In a person with diabetes, the insulin they inject or pump keeps working, even when the blood glucose level is low.

Low blood glucose may be caused by the following:

  • Not following your meal plan
  • Too much exercise or exercising for a long time without eating a snack
  • Too much medication or a change in the time you take your medication
  • Stress
  • Side effects from other medications
  • Alcohol intake, especially without food

The body responds to low blood glucose with warning signs that may be different in each person. Some common symptoms are:

  • Feeling shaky
  • Sweating
  • Tiredness
  • Hunger
  • Lack of concentration
  • Blurred vision
  • Feeling irritable or confused
  • Going pale

Regular testing may help you avoid hypoglycaemia. It is important to check your blood glucose if you feel any hypo warning symptoms and take action if needed.

If you want to know more about hypoglycaemia, click here for information from the NHS.

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  1. International Diabetes Federation. Diabetes: facts and figures. Available at: http://www.idf.org/about-diabetes/facts-figures. Accessed 13 December 2016.
  2. Diabetes UK. Diabetes Prevalence 2016. Available at: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/Professionals/Position-statements-reports/St.... Accessed 13 December 2016.
  3. US Census Bureau. World Population Clock Projection. Available at: http://www.census.gov/popclock/world. Accessed 27 June 2016. Estimated world population is 7.3 billion.
  4. International Diabetes Federation. Types of Diabetes. Available at: http://www.idf.org/about-diabetes. Accessed 27 June 2016.
  5. Kim, SY. Sharma, AJ. Callaghan, WM. (2012) Gestational diabetes and childhood obesity: what is the link? Woman’s Health, December 2012, Vol. 24, No. 6, pp376-381
  6. NHS, Gestational Diabetes - Treatment. Available at:http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/gestational-diabetes/Pages/Treatment.aspx. Accessed 18 June 2014