World Diabetes Day: What is diabetes?
“What is diabetes?” might have been the first question you had when you were diagnosed. It might be the first question a family member or friend asks. Essentially, diabetes is too much glucose (sugar) in the blood.
Diabetes is a chronic condition that occurs when your pancreas is no longer able to make insulin, or when the body cannot make good use of the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas, which acts like a key to let glucose from the food we eat pass from the blood stream into the cells in the body to be used as a source of energy. Not being able to produce insulin or use it properly will eventually lead to higher levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood. (Known as hyperglycaemia). If this continues over the long term, these high glucose levels become dangerous and damage the organs and tissues within the body. Once diagnosed with pre-diabetes or diabetes your healthcare provider will probably introduce you to checking your blood sugar. Most people check their blood sugar by pricking a finger to apply a small drop of blood to a test strip inserted into a measuring device called a blood glucose meter.
Understanding the different types of diabetes
Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is present in 5 to 10% of people with diabetes and is usually diagnosed in children and adolescents. It is caused by the destruction (by mistake) of the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. In these cases, the treatment requires the use of insulin.
Symptoms of type 1 diabetes
The most common symptoms of type 1 diabetes include:
- Abnormal thirst and dry mouth
- Sudden weight loss
- Frequent urination
- Lack of energy, tiredness
- Constant hunger
- Blurred vision
People with type 1 diabetes are usually advised to measure their blood glucose level at least four times a day so that they can use the correct dose of insulin. Healthy eating as well as exercise is also recommended.
Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90 to 95% of all people with diabetes, and is caused by insufficient production of insulin by the body, or its inability to use it properly. It is mainly diagnosed in adults (over 40 years old), and often presents with few symptoms, which allows its progression for many years without being diagnosed. Therefore, it is important to understand the risk factors associated with Type 2 diabetes and keep a look out for these.
Risk factors for Type 2 diabetes
Several risk factors have been associated with type 2 diabetes and include:
- Family history of diabetes
- Unhealthy diet
- Physical inactivity
- Increasing age
- High blood pressure
- Impaired glucose tolerance (IGT)*
- History of gestational diabetes
- Poor nutrition during pregnancy
The cornerstone of type 2 diabetes treatment is healthy lifestyle, including increased physical activity and healthy diet. However, because diabetes is a progressive condition, over time most people with type 2 diabetes will require oral drugs and/or insulin to keep their blood glucose levels under control.
For some women, when they are pregnant, gestational diabetes can occur. This happens when your body has difficulties using insulin during pregnancy, typically due to hormone changes. Most of the time, this type of diabetes goes away after the baby is born. However, it does put you and your baby at higher risk to develop Type 2 diabetes later in life.
Remember, diabetes is not your fault or something to blame yourself about. You are facing an unexpected change—but one you have the opportunity to manage. Always ask your Healthcare Professional to check for diabetes at your annual visit. For more information on diabetes and its management, please consult with your Healthcare Professional.