There are two types of diabetes, and both cause a person’s blood sugar level to become too high or too low. This is dangerous and can cause serious damage to the heart, eyes, feet and kidneys.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a complicated condition and is generally categorised into two categories: Type 1 and Type 2. Both cause a person’s blood glucose level to become too high or too low.
If the condition isn’t well managed it can lead to further health complications which can seriously damage the heart, eyes, feet and kidneys. Not only can there be long term damage but if a Diabetic suffers a ‘hypo’ where their blood glucose level drops too low and isn’t treated quickly enough they can experience weakness, blurred vision, confusion or difficulty concentrating, feeling sleepy, seizures or fits, collapsing or passing out. So, it is important for a Diabetic to be alerted quickly if their blood glucose levels are dropping too low.
With the right treatment and care, a person with Diabetes can live a healthy life and key to this is self-management through being able to make the right decisions based on blood glucose readings.
Diabetes is recognised as a global epidemic with 537 million adults living with the disease and almost half are undiagnosed. The International Diabetes Federation predicts there to be 783 million Diabetics by 2045 (IDF Diabetes Atlas, 10th Edition, 2021). There is currently no cure for Diabetes.
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What are the symptoms of Diabetes?
The main symptoms of Diabetes include:
- Excessive thirst
- Urinating more often than usual, especially at night
- Loss of muscle or weight loss
- Repeat instances of thrush or itching in genital areas
- Wounds that take a long time to heal
- Blurred vision
It is important that you seek medical advice from your GP if you have any of the above symptoms. According to Diabetes UK, 1 in 15 people in the UK have Diabetes but have not been diagnosed.
What is Type 1 Diabetes?
Type 1 Diabetes occurs when the body can’t make the insulin hormone. Insulin is needed to help move glucose from the blood into the cells to be used for energy. The cause of Type 1 Diabetes is not known and although it can develop at any age, it is more common in children. It is understood that if a family member has Type 1 Diabetes, it is likely that another family member will also develop it.
Unlike type 2 Diabetes, which can go into remission (see below), Type 1 Diabetes is not affected by lifestyle changes. Insulin is needed to manage the condition permanently. Type 1 Diabetics can get seriously ill if they do not control their glucose levels. Before insulin was discovered and isolated as a medicine, people with Diabetes would die soon after they developed it.
In this blog, learn about how Diabetes was discovered, and the technology used to treat it, as far back as 3000 years ago.
What is Type 2 Diabetes?
The most common type of Diabetes is Type 2 which develops when a person has high blood sugar and not enough insulin to convert it into energy. This could be because the insulin has stopped working, known as insulin resistance, or the pancreas is not making enough. This means the glucose levels in your blood will keep rising, which can eventually lead to Type 1 Diabetes and the associated symptoms.
The main causes of Type 2 Diabetes are being obese and living an unhealthy lifestyle. Other risk factors include:
- An unhealthy waist measurement
- Too much fat stored in or around your liver and pancreas
- High blood pressure
- Certain ethnicities and ages
- A family history of Diabetes
Although you can’t change a family history of Diabetes or what ethnicity you are, you can control your weight and waist size. If you have a lot of risk factors but do not have Type 2 Diabetes, you may get diagnosed with Pre-Diabetes.
What is Pre-Diabetes?
Non-diabetic hyperglycaemia, or Pre-Diabetes occurs when a person has higher than normal blood sugar levels, but not high enough to be considered for a Diabetes diagnosis.
Pre-Diabetes doesn’t usually present with any symptoms but can be noticed during a blood test. If you are experiencing any Diabetes symptoms, speak with your GP immediately. The Diabetes charity Diabetes.org.uk says there are 13.6 million people in the UK who have an increased risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes.
If you are diagnosed with Pre-Diabetes, it’s important to know that the condition doesn’t always lead to a Diabetes diagnosis. With lifestyle changes, such as a change in eating, smoking and exercise habits, blood sugar levels can be reduced back to normal levels.
By making lasting health and lifestyle changes, almost 50% of Pre-Diabetes cases can be prevented.
What are the treatments for Diabetes?
There are different methods for treating and managing Diabetes. There are standard treatments, but they also depend on the individual’s circumstances, such as the type of Diabetes they have and other medications they might be on.
The main treatment is insulin. All Type 1 Diabetics need to take insulin, and some Type 2 Diabetics do too. Insulin can be injected with an insulin injection pen, or continuously pumped into the body through an insulin pump.
It’s possible to have medication that can stimulate the pancreas to produce insulin, and an option for some people is an islet cell transplant.
How is Diabetes managed?
The self-management of Diabetes is different for everyone with the condition. The different types of Diabetes all require the monitoring of glucose levels and making sure there is enough insulin in the blood to healthily control those levels.
This is usually done through a combination of glucose monitoring, medicine, emotional support, carefully planning out food and drinks, and getting regular exercise.
Regularly monitoring blood glucose levels to manage the condition effectively can be done through self-monitoring using a glucose meter, continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) systems, or other devices. Regular monitoring helps individuals make informed short- and long-term decisions about insulin dosages, food choices, and lifestyle. You can learn more about how CGM’s work in this article.
Insulin is the most common medication for Diabetes and there are various types of insulin, such as rapid-acting, short-acting, intermediate-acting, and long-acting. Some people with Diabetes may also take oral medications or use other injectable medications to help control blood sugar levels. A common medicine is called Metformin but it is not the only medication option.
Living with Diabetes can be challenging, and emotional support is crucial. Support groups, counselling, and educational resources can help individuals cope with the emotional aspects of managing such an all-encompassing condition. If you have a friend or family member with Diabetes, read our guide with practical advice.
Food and drinks
A person’s diet plays a significant role in managing Diabetes. Individuals often work with healthcare professionals or dietitians to create a balanced meal plan that considers the impact of different food and drinks on their blood sugar levels. This can mean people with Diabetes have to be extra careful when eating out or drinking alcohol.
Regular physical activity is important for managing Diabetes. Exercise can help control blood sugar levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and contribute to overall health and mental wellbeing. A healthcare team usually works with a person who has Diabetes before they start a new exercise regime just to make sure they are aware of the risks and how to take care of their blood glucose levels.
What complications are associated with Diabetes?
There are many complications that can occur directly or indirectly because of Diabetes. Some common ones include:
- Increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular issues
- Nerve damage often in the hands and feet which can lead to infections and ulcers
- Damage to the blood vessels in the eyes which can lead to vision problems and blindness
- Kidney disease or failure
- Increased risk of skin conditions, such as bacterial and fungal infections
- Digestive problems
It’s important for people with Diabetes to work closely with a healthcare team and manage their condition to reduce the risk of complications. Regular medical check-ups, monitoring, and lifestyle adjustments are key components of Diabetes management.
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Frequently Asked Questions about Diabetes
Diabetes is a medical condition that causes a person’s blood sugar levels to become too high because their pancreas does not produce any, or enough insulin, or the insulin does not work.
Diabetes can have a major, life-changing impact on a person’s life, as well as the lives of their loved ones. Careful planning of food, exercise and medication is required, and it can interrupt activities people without diabetes take for granted, such as travelling or attending work. Living with Diabetes can have an emotional toll on a person and complications can seriously affect their health.
There are two main types of Diabetes; Types 1 and 2. Type 1 restricts any production of insulin. Type 2 either does not make enough insulin, or does make it work properly. There are additional, rarer types of diabetes such as Type 3c. Pregnant people may experience gestational diabetes which usually goes away after the pregnancy ends.
Symptoms of diabetes include:
- needing to pee a lot, especially at night
- increased thirst
- increased tiredness
- losing weight
- genital itching or thrush
- wounds taking longer to heal than they should
- blurred vision
Hyperglycaemia is where the sugar or glucose levels are too high in a person’s blood. Hypoglycaemia is when the level of sugar or glucose in a person’s blood is too low. Both can affect people who have diabetes.
Dietary glucose is a simple carbohydrate in food that is converted from dietary glucose into blood glucose by the body. Blood glucose is otherwise known as blood sugar. Your body uses blood glucose for energy.
If left untreated and unchecked, diabetes can cause serious damage to your eyes, feet, kidneys, nerves and blood vessels. Damaged blood vessels can increase the risks of heart attacks and strokes. Complications from damaged nerves makes it more difficult for the brain to communicate with the body and that can impact how a person sees, hears, feels and moves. Not treating diabetes can also lead to sexual problems and gum disease.
Menopause causes changes in levels of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone. These changes can cause fluctuations in blood sugar levels which will impact how a person manages their diabetes during perimenopause and menopause. Weight gain, sleep problems and increased risk of infections can all occur due to menopause and be exacerbated by diabetes. Menopause is different for everyone and symptoms can be managed effectively; talk to your healthcare provider about your specific circumstances.
Lots of factors can impact a person with diabetes’ weight. Weight loss is a symptom of diabetes and someone taking insulin, which is a growth hormone, can put weight on as part of their recovery after diagnosis. Maintaining a healthy weight, losing or gaining weight can be beneficial depending on your type of diabetes and current weight. Talk to your healthcare provider to make a plan based on your individual needs.
Gestational diabetes occurs when high blood sugar develops during a pregnancy, however this can disappear after the birth.