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What is diabetes?

Diabetes is where blood glucose (or sugar) levels run too high. Diabetes currently affects 425 million adults worldwide and is expected to increase to 649 million by 2045.1 In the UK, there are currently almost 3.7 million people currently diagnosed with diabetes2 and that figure is expected to grow to over five million by 2025.3

There are a few different types of diabetes but the three most common are:

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes occurs when an individual's immune system destroys the cells in the pancreas that create insulin.4 It is currently unknown what exactly causes it.5 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 most commonly diagnosed in children or young adults, although it can occur at any age.

woman testing on bench

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 regular blood glucose monitoring all play an important role in managing Type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes represents around 90% of people with diabetes.6 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. It is often associated with being overweight or obese, which itself can cause insulin resistance and lead to high blood glucose levels however, that is not always the case. Type 2 diabetes can develop slowly and the signs may not be obvious. Additional risk factors or characteristics for type 2 diabetes include:

  • Age – being over 40 years of age can increase your risk
  • If you have or had high blood pressure
  • Family history of diabetes
  • History of gestational diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Race/Ethnicity such as African-Caribbean, or South Asian descent

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 - find out more here.

Gestational diabetes

pregnant woman

Gestational diabetes can sometimes occur when pregnancy hormones inhibit a woman’s body to use insulin properly, creating insulin resistance which results in high blood glucose levels. Approximately 700,000 women give birth in England and Wales each year, and only up to 5% of these women have either pre‑existing diabetes or gestational diabetes.7 Women are screened for gestational diabetes at antenatal appointments to determine whether they are at increased risk. Gestational diabetes often resolves itself after giving birth.

Treatment for managing blood glucose levels in women with gestational diabetes can vary, however blood glucose testing is usually recommended.8 Treatments can include diet and exercise, tablets or insulin to reduce blood glucose levels.

Please visit https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/gestational-diabetes/ for more information from the NHS or speak to your healthcare professional for advice.

Downloads

the inside story on diabetes

The inside story on diabetes

Diabetes, or diabetes mellitus to give it its full name, is where the body is unable to control blood glucose properly. This booklet will help introduce you to some of the key topics, and advise you on the day-to-day realities of living with diabetes.

DOWNLOAD NOW   Watch our video on diabetes
planning a pregnancy

Planning a pregnancy

If you are planning a pregnancy, then good blood glucose control before and during pregnancy can improve your chances of a safe and successful outcome for both you and your baby.

This booklet provides useful information on lowering risks for both you and your baby as well as diet, lifestyle and blood glucose control.

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