Diabetes is a condition where your blood sugar level is higher than normal. This produces a range of harmful symptoms. It affects around 2.3 million people in the UK.
When we eat, much of the food that we digest is turned into sugar, or glucose. The pancreas produces the hormone insulin which helps our bodies to use this glucose as energy, which is essential for everyday life. However, if insufficient insulin is produced by the pancreas, the glucose builds up, causing serious health problems including heart disease, kidney failure and blindness.
If you have Type 1 diabetes it means that the insulin-producing cells in the body have been destroyed and it is unable to produce any insulin. Type 1 diabetes usually affects people under the age of 40 and often starts in childhood.
Type 2 diabetes is more common, affecting between 85-95 per cent of people with diabetes. If you have Type 2 diabetes it means that although your body is still able to make some insulin, it is not producing enough or the insulin that it does produce is not working effectively. Type 2 diabetes usually affects people over 40, although in some cases it can appear earlier. The number of people with the condition is rising and it is most common in people who are overweight and don’t exercise enough.
If glucose is not converted into energy by insulin, more sugar stays in the blood. This causes symptoms, which include:
- Feeling thirsty
- Needing to pass urine more often
- Weight loss
- Itching, particularly in the genital region, and/or regular episodes of thrush
- Slow healing and/or recurrent skin infections
In Type 1 diabetes symptoms can develop very quickly and are usually obvious. In Type 2 diabetes symptoms can be less obvious and it is often diagnosed during a routine medical check. In both cases symptoms usually improve quickly once the diabetes is being treated and controlled.
Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are usually diagnosed by taking a blood test to check for glucose levels.
Type 1 diabetes is usually treated with daily injections of insulin, together with a healthy diet and regular exercise.
Type 2 diabetes is usually treated by adopting a healthier lifestyle, with a healthier diet and more exercise. Sometimes it is also necessary to take medication, including insulin.