What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a lifelong condition that causes a person's blood sugar level to become too high. The amount of glucose in the body is too high because the body cannot use it properly. Glucose is broken down in the body after we eat, and is moved around the body by insulin released from the pancreas. Having some of the signs of diabetes doesn't mean you are diabetic, but you should contact your GP, to make sure. Diabetes, when left untreated, can cause serious health complications.
There are two main types of diabetes: Type 1 (no insulin) and Type 2 (insulin that doesn't do what it is supposed to). They are different conditions and have separate causes, but both need to be taken seriously and diagnosed, treated and managed properly.
What Are the Types of Diabetes?
There are two types of diabetes and a number of associated illnesses. Type 1 diabetes is where the body's immune system attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin, meaning there is no way of moving glucose around the body. Symptoms come on rapidly over a number of weeks.
Type 2 diabetes is different but more common. In Type 2 diabetes the body doesn't produce enough insulin to carry the glucose around the body, or it may do, but the body's cells don't react to insulin. Of adults in the UK who have diabetes, 90% of them have type 2 diabetes.
Gestational diabetes is more common that people realise. Many women find during pregnancy, that they have such high levels of blood glucose that their bodies are incapable of producing enough insulin to absorb it all.
Other people suffer with pre-diabetes, where their blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. There is a high risk of developing full-blown diabetes in these cases.
What Can Cause Diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system destroys the cells in the pancreas that create insulin. This autoimmune reaction means the body does not have enough insulin to function normally. There are a number of triggers for this autoimmune reaction:
Type 2 diabetes tend to have more than one cause. The most frequent cause of type 2 diabetes is genetic, a family history of diabetes. Risk factors can increase chances of diabetes and these include:
Pregnancy and illness can also be risk factors for type 2 diabetes.
How Do You Know If You Have Diabetes?
There are a range of symptoms for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. These include:
What Other Conditions Can Diabetes Cause?
Leaving diabetes untreated can lead to serious health issues. It is difficult to miss the symptoms for type 1 diabetes because they appear quickly. Untreated diabetes can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis, which can result in a potentially fatal coma.
With Type 2 diabetes the symptoms develop more slowly and can be dismissed, but again, if they remain untreated there can be serious issues. Untreated diabetes can affect your major organs, including the heart, blood vessels, nerves, eyes and kidneys.
The five main conditions that can be caused by diabetes include heart disease and stroke, kidney disease, nerve damage, amputations and blindness or loss of vision.
Can Diabetes Be Cured?
At the moment there is no cure for type 1 or type 2 diabetes, however, after a confirmed diagnosis you will be advised to eat healthily, take regular exercise and carry out regular blood tests to ensure your blood glucose levels remain balanced. You'll be encouraged to maintain a healthy weight and if you have type 1 diabetes you will need to take regular insulin injections for the rest of your life.
Type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition and medication will eventually be required, usually in the form of tablets. In some cases type 2 diabetes can be reversed meaning that medication may no longer be required. This would generally mean lifestyle changes such as a change to dietary habits, weight loss and a regular exercise regime.
If you have any of symptoms of diabetes, you should contact your GP at the earliest opportunity. The symptoms are generic enough that you may not necessarily have diabetes, but bearing in mind your long-term health, it is worth checking. The earlier a diagnosis, the less likely you are to suffer serious complications in the future.
Updated: April 24, 2018 CET