Diabetes is a condition that causes a person’s blood sugar level to become too high.
There are 2 main types of diabetes:
Type 1 diabetes – a lifelong condition where the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin.
Type 2 diabetes – where the body does not produce enough insulin, or the body’s cells do not respond to insulin properly.
Type 2 diabetes is much more common than type 1. In the UK, over 90% of all adults with diabetes have type 2.
High blood sugar that develops during pregnancy is known as gestational diabetes. It usually resolves after giving birth.
Non-diabetic hyperglycaemia (pre-diabetes)
Many people have blood sugar levels above the normal range, but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes. This condition is known as non-diabetic hyperglycaemia or pre-diabetes.
Individuals with non-diabetic hyperglycaemia are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, but this risk can be reduced through lifestyle changes.
If you have non-diabetic hyperglycaemia, you may be eligible for the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme. This program assists people in making lasting lifestyle changes and has been proven to help prevent type 2 diabetes.
It is also recommended for individuals with non-diabetic hyperglycaemia to have an annual blood test to monitor their blood sugar levels.
It is crucial to diagnose diabetes as early as possible because if left untreated, it is likely to worsen and can lead to long-term health problems.
When to see a GP
Make an appointment with your GP as soon as possible if you experience the main symptoms of diabetes, which include:
- Feeling excessively thirsty
- Increased frequency of urination, particularly at night
- Profound fatigue
- Unintentional weight loss and loss of muscle mass
- Itching around the genital area or frequent episodes of thrush
- Blurred vision
Type 1 diabetes can develop rapidly over a few weeks or even days.
Weight loss is a common occurrence in individuals with type 1 diabetes during the initial stages before treatment, but it is less common in people with type 2 diabetes.
Many people live with type 2 diabetes for years without realizing it because the early symptoms are often general or may not manifest at all.
Causes of diabetes
The level of sugar in the blood is regulated by a hormone called insulin, which is produced by the pancreas (a gland located behind the stomach).
When food is digested and enters the bloodstream, insulin helps move glucose out of the blood and into cells, where it is broken down to generate energy.
However, in the case of diabetes, the body is unable to effectively convert glucose into energy. This can happen due to either insufficient insulin to transport the glucose or the insulin produced not functioning properly.
There are no lifestyle changes that can be made to lower the risk of developing type 1 diabetes.
To reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, it is recommended to adopt healthy eating habits, engage in regular exercise, and achieve a healthy body weight.
You may have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes if:
- You are overweight or obese
- You do not follow a healthy diet
- There is a family history of type 2 diabetes
- You are of Asian, Black African, or African Caribbean descent
- You have been taking certain medications, such as steroids, for an extended period
- You have high blood pressure
- You have experienced gestational diabetes during pregnancy.
Living with diabetes
If you receive a diabetes diagnosis, it is important to maintain a healthy diet, engage in regular exercise, and undergo regular check-ups, including blood tests.
You can use the BMI healthy weight calculator to determine whether you have a healthy weight.
If you smoke, it is advisable to try quitting, and it’s recommended to reduce alcohol consumption.
Individuals diagnosed with type 1 diabetes will require regular insulin injections for the rest of their lives.
Type 2 diabetes can progress over time, and individuals living with type 2 diabetes often need medication, usually in the form of tablets or injections.
However, some individuals may be able to achieve remission of type 2 diabetes by losing weight, resulting in their blood sugar levels falling below the diabetic range. Some people can accomplish this through a low-calorie diet, but it is important to seek medical advice before attempting any specific approach, as it may not be suitable for everyone.
Diabetic eye screening
All individuals aged 12 years and older with diabetes should receive regular invitations for eye screening.
Having diabetes puts your eyes at risk of diabetic retinopathy, a condition that can potentially cause vision loss if left untreated.
Screening involves a comprehensive 30-minute examination of the back of the eyes, aiming to diagnose diabetic retinopathy and identify the condition at an early stage whenever possible. Early detection allows for more effective treatment, which can prevent or minimize the impact on vision.
If you experience any issues with your eyesight, it is crucial to consult a doctor promptly. Do not wait until your next scheduled screening appointment.
Diabetic foot problems
Diabetes has the potential to harm the nerves in your feet, resulting in a loss of sensation. It can also diminish the blood circulation to your feet. Consequently, you may not be aware if your feet are sore or injured, and wounds may not heal properly. This can lead to the development of ulcers, infections, and in severe cases, amputations may be necessary.
Adults living with diabetes should undergo an annual foot examination conducted by a healthcare professional.
If you observe any issues with your feet, it is vital to seek medical attention as soon as possible.