What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a condition in which there is too much glucose, a type of sugar, in the blood. Glucose levels are usually maintained by a hormone called insulin. Glucose is a by-product of the food that we eat, and the job of insulin is to move glucose from the bloodstream to the cells, where it is used to provide the body with energy. In diabetes this process is disrupted because of a lack of insulin. This results in a build-up of glucose in the bloodstream, producing symptoms such as tiredness, frequent urination and feeling thirsty.
Diabetes is a chronic condition, which means that once diagnosed it will be present for life. Over time a number of serious complications can occur because of the effects of raised glucose levels on blood vessels. These include heart disease and stroke, as well as damage to the eyes, kidneys and feet.
The harmful effects of diabetes can be reduced by taking steps to maintain a normal level of glucose in the bloodstream. This may involve changing your diet, losing weight, taking regular exercise, or using medications.
Types of Diabetes
There are two main types of diabetes:
- In type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system attacks the cells that make insulin and so very little or no insulin is produced. This form of diabetes is most commonly seen in children and younger people.
- In type 2 diabetes, the body either does not produce enough insulin, or is unable to use insulin normally. Type 2 diabetes usually occurs in adults older than 40 years but is becoming more common in younger adults. Some ethnic groups are at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes, particularly people of South Asian, African and African-Caribbean descent.
Diabetes may also occur in pregnancy. This is called gestational diabetes.
More than 2 million people in the UK are diagnosed with diabetes, and the condition is becoming more common. It is likely that a significant number of people already have diabetes but do not yet know about it.