So what is diabetes? It is a long-term condition that causes excess glucose (sugar) to be in the blood. All the carbs we eat are turned into glucose, which is then used for energy. A hormone made in the pancreas called insulin is responsible for utilising glucose and getting it into the cells of our body. To illustrate: If we are a car and petrol is the glucose, insulin is the petrol pump, so without insulin our body cells will not receive the fuel they need and there will be a build-up of glucose in our blood.
When there is excess glucose in the bloodstream, the body will respond to remove it, so a person will become thirsty, drink more and urinate more. Some of the other symptoms of diabetes are tiredness, hunger and weight loss.
There are two main types of diabetes, Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 is where no insulin is produced by the body and type 2 is where the body does not produce enough insulin for normal glucose levels or the body cannot effectively use the insulin that is being produced.
Type 1 diabetes is less common than type 2 and around 10% of people with diabetes have this type. It is also known as insulin-dependent, juvenile or early-onset diabetes because it usually develops before the age of 40, often during teenage years. Type 1 diabetics need regular insulin injections to manage their diabetes.
Type 2 generally occurs over the age of 40, however, in recent years this line is being blurred and we are now seeing a younger generation developing type 2 diabetes, more so in South Asian and African-Caribbean ethnicity. Depending on the severity of the disease it is managed by exercise, diet, medication and/or insulin injections.
There are many complications associated with diabetes such as cardiovascular disease, blindness, kidney failure, nerve damage and lower limb amputations to name just a few.
These risks can be lowered by closely controlling blood sugar levels, blood pressure and cholesterol. Having a healthy diet, regular exercise and not smoking is important too. This is also true for lowering the risk of getting Type 2 diabetes in the first place.
You are overweight – over 80% of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight.
You have a large waist (more than 80cm/31.5 inches in women, 94 cm/37 inches in men or more than 90cm/35 inches in Asian men)
Being of south Asian, Chinese, African-Caribbean or black African origin (even if you were born in the UK) increases risk
You have a parent, brother or sister, son or daughter with Type 2 diabetes
Higher risk of diabetes if you have ever had high blood pressure
You’ve had a heart attack or a stroke
Eating an unhealthy diet
Age, the older you are, the greater the risk. However there has been a significant increase in children with diabetes, thought to be related to childhood obesity.
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