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What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition where a person has higher than normal blood sugar levels. There are two main types of diabetes, type 1 and type 2.

Type 1

The purpose of insulin in the body is to move glucose into your cells from the bloodstream for conversion into enegry. A lack of insulin means the body starts to break down its own stores of fat and muscle. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks and destroys the cells in your pancreas meaning the body can no longer produce insulin. Without insulin, glucose levels rise significantly.

Type 1 diabetes, otherwise known as ‘early-onset’ diabetes, often develops before the age of 40. About 10 per cent of people currently living with diabetes are diagnosed as having type 1.

Type 2

Type 2 diabetes is when the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin, or when the insulin that is produced is unable to be used by the body. There are a number of reasons why the pancreas may not produce enough insulin, including age, genetics and being overweight.


Studies have found that the risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases with age. This may be because, as people get older, they tend to exercise less and gain weight as a result.


If you have a close relative with the condition, your risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases greatly. The level of risk depends on how closely related you are, with the most immediate relatives posing the highest risk.

Being overweight

If you are overweight or obese, you are far more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Fat around the stomach leads to an even bigger increase in risk because it releases chemicals which can upset the body’s delicate cardiovascular and metabolic systems, meaning you are more likely to develop serious conditions like heart disease or strokes.

There is currently a rapid rise in the number of adults developing type 2 diabetes. It is important to make as much effort to prevent the condition as possible, as future health problems can arise and complications can become very serious. Type 2 diabetes is the most common cause of visual impairment and blindness in middle aged people. It can also cause kidney failure, cardiovascular disease and strokes.

What are the main symptoms of diabetes?

While type 1 diabetes can develop very quickly, type 2 can take a lot longer to diagnose as symptoms are usually harder to spot. The main symptoms of both type 1 and type 2 are:

  • an increased feeling of thirst

  • frequent urination, particulary at night

  • tiredness

  • loss of muscle and body fat

  • blurred vision

  • wounds that heal slowly

Treating type 1 diabetes

Although diabetes cannot be cured, treatment aims to control symptoms and keep blood sugar levels as normal as possible. Specialist teams provide information and care for patients, monitoring their condition and teaching them how to manage their medication.

Treatment of type 1 diabetes aims to regulate blood sugar levels and control symptoms to prevent further complications. Three types of insulin - long, short and rapid-acting - may be offered individually or as a combination treatment. These will need to be injected so that levels match your diet and the amount of exercise you do. Health centres often offer sessions for patients with diabetes, teaching them how and when to administer medication.

A fairly new treatment, known as islet transplantation, involves taking healthy cells from the pancreas of a deceased donar and implanting them into the pancreas of a type 1 diabetes sufferer. This treatment has so far been effective in reducing the number of patients who suffer from attacks of very low blood sugar or ‘hypoglycaemic attacks’.

Treating type 2 diabetes

In some type 2 cases it may be possible to control symptoms through making changes to your diet and lifestyle. Eating a healthy diet, taking regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking and lowering your alcohol intake can all help with controlling symptoms and preventing complications associated with type 2 diabetes.

However, as a progressive condition, it may be that eventually your diabetes requires medication to keep blood sugar levels normal. This can start as tablets but may progress to insulin injections at a later stage.

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