Diabetes can feel like an information minefield but understanding the condition can be the first step towards managing it. We are here to simplify the subject and help you grasp the basics.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a lifelong condition that causes a person's blood glucose (AKA blood sugar) to become too high. The amount of sugar in someone’s blood is controlled by a hormone called insulin. For someone without diabetes, food is digested and enters into the bloodstream. As this happens, insulin moves glucose out of the blood and into cells, where it is broken down to produce energy. However, when someone has diabetes, their body is unable to break down the glucose into energy. This is because there's either not enough insulin to move the glucose, or the insulin produced does not work properly.
What are the different types of diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes
This is where the body's immune system attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin, meaning you have to inject insulin to control blood glucose levels. There are different types of insulin that can be injected at different times. There is the long-acting, basal insulin that keeps blood glucose stable overnight or in between meals, then there’s the fast-acting, bolus insulin taken before eating or drinking something that contains carbohydrates.
Type 2 diabetes
This is where the body does not produce enough insulin, or the body's cells don’t react to insulin. This is much more common than type 1. Most people need medicines to control their type 2 diabetes, but it can also often be managed through healthy eating, regular exercise and maintaining a healthy body weight.
For some, diabetes and pregnancy go hand in hand. During pregnancy, some women have such high levels of blood glucose that their body is unable to produce enough insulin to absorb it all. This is known as gestational diabetes, a condition that usually disappears after giving birth. Gestational diabetes can sometime cause premature birth and other problems for you and your baby if left untreated, but the risks can be reduced if the condition is detected early and managed effectively.
Who can get diabetes?
Although there is nothing you can do to prevent type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed by maintaining a healthy weight, eating well and by being active.
What are the symptoms of diabetes?
It is super important for diabetes to be diagnosed as early as possible. If left untreated, it can slowly get worse and lead to serious complications, including damage to your kidneys, eyes, and other organs. Symptoms of diabetes include:
- Feeling very thirsty
- Needing to urinate more frequently than usual, particularly at night
- Feeling very tired
- Weight loss
- Loss of muscle bulk
- Itching around the penis or vagina
- Frequent episodes of thrush
- Cuts or wounds that heal slowly
- Blurred vision
With type 1 diabetes, these symptoms can appear quickly over several weeks, or in some cases, even days. Alternatively, with type 2 diabetes, these symptoms can appear very gradually, often going unnoticed for long periods of time.
See your GP if you think you have symptoms of high blood sugar.