About diabetes

Diabetes is a condition where the blood sugar level is higher than normal.

There are two main types of diabetes.

  • Type 1 diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes. It is commonly seen in young people.
  • Type 2 diabetes – most of the time this is non insulin-dependant. It is most commonly seen in adults over 40, and overweight people.

There are other types of diabetes, such as gestational diabetes. It’s associated with pregnancy, and in most cases symptoms disappear after birth. However, if you get gestational diabestes, there is an increased risk that you may develop one of the main 2 types of diabetes in later life.

There is also secondary diabetes, which is diabeted caused by the result of another condition or using medication such as steroids.

How common is diabetes?

There are around 2.3 milion people with diabetes in Britain. It’s also estimated that more than half a million people have the condition but are unaware of it. Over the past 30 years, childhood diabetes has increased 300%. This is linked to an increase in obesity levels, but obesity doesn’t explain the increase in Type 1 diabetes in children, and this is where the majority of new cases are appearing.

What causes diabetes?

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas gland in the abdomen. It controls the use of glucose (sugar) within the body.

In Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas is producing little or no insulin. In Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas is producing insulin, but not enough, or it is in-effective. There appears to be a link between Type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Gestational diabetes is caused by the many hormone changes during pregnancy. Secondary diabetes can be caused by damage to the pancreas (eg by alcohol), and drugs such as steroids and diuretics.

Common symptoms of diabetes:

  • increased thirst
  • frequent urination
  • tiredness
  • weight loss,
  • increased appetite (especially in Type 1 diabetes)
  • itchiness, especially around the genitals
  • infections on the skin, eg boils.

In Type 1 diabetes these symptoms will appear within days or weeks, with Type 2 is can take years. Heredity plays a part in diabetes, but only 10 per cent of people with Type 1 have a family history of diabetes. For Type 2, this rises to 30 per cent.

How is a diagnosis made?

A blood sample is taken, and glucose levels are measured.

  • Random glucose test: Glucose levels are taken at a random time on two occasions. Any figure above 11.1mmol/l is a diagnosis of diabetes
  • Fasting glucose test: The glucose level is measured after an overnight fast and on two different days. Above 7.0mmol/l is a diagnosis of diabetes.

exclamation markAlways consult your GP immediately if you have a health problem or you are concerned about diabetes.

Back to top