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Diabetes Explained


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Diabetes Mellitus is a common health condition. About 3 million people in the UK are known to have diabetes that is about five in every 100 people. And there are an estimated 2 million people in the UK who have diabetes but don't know it.

Diabetes mellitus is a condition in which the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood is too high because the body cannot use it properly.

Glucose comes from the digestion of starchy foods such as bread, rice, potatoes, chapatis, yams and plantain, from sugar and other sweet foods, and from the liver which makes glucose.

Insulin is vital for life. It is a hormone produced by the pancreas, that helps the glucose to enter the cells where it is used as fuel by the body.

The main symptoms of untreated diabetes are increased thirst, going to the toilet all the time (especially at night), extreme tiredness, weight loss, genital itching or regular episodes of thrush, and blurred vision.

There are two main types of diabetes

  • Type 1 diabetes, also known as insulin dependent diabetes
  • Type 2 diabetes, also known as non insulin dependent diabetes. More than three quarters of people with diabetes have type 2.

Type 1 diabetes develops if the body is unable to produce any insulin. This type of diabetes usually appears before the age of 40. It is treated by insulin injections and diet and regular exercise is recommended.

Type 1 diabetes develops when the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas have been destroyed. Nobody knows for sure why this happens but damage to the cells is most likely an abnormal reaction of the immune system that may be triggered by a viral or other infection. Type 1 Diabetes sometimes runs in families suggesting a genetic influence. This type of diabetes generally affects younger people.

Type 2 used to be called 'maturity onset' diabetes because it usually appears in middle-aged or elderly people, although it does occasionally occur in younger people. Type 2 diabetes develops when the body can still make some insulin, but not enough, or when the insulin that is produced does not work properly (known as insulin resistance). This type of diabetes usually appears in people over the age of 40, though can appear before the age of 40. People who are overweight are particularly likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. It tends to run in families and is more common in South Asian and African-Caribbean communities.

Type 2 Diabetes is treated by diet and exercise alone or by diet, exercise and tablets or by diet, exercise and insulin injections. The main aim of treatment of both types of diabetes is to achieve blood sugar and blood pressure levels as near to normal as possible.

This, together with a healthy lifestyle, will help to improve well-being and protect against long-term damage to the eyes, kidneys, nerves, heart and major arteries.

Some people wrongly describe Type 2 diabetes as 'mild' diabetes. There is no such thing as mild diabetes. All diabetes should be taken seriously and treated properly.

Diabetes UK publishes a free 'Are you at risk?' leaflet in English and various other languages. Are you at risk leaflet

Other causes of diabetes

There are some other causes of diabetes, including certain diseases of the pancreas, but they are all very rare.

Sometimes an accident or an illness may reveal diabetes if it is already there, but they do not cause it

For more information on type 2 diabetes go to : Type 2 Diabetes


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