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Diabetes mellitus is a common condition in which the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood is too high because the body is unable to use it properly. This is because the body's method of converting glucose into energy is not working as it should.

Normally, a hormone called insulin carefully controls the amount of glucose in our blood. Insulin is made by a gland called the pancreas, which lies just behind the stomach. It helps the glucose to enter the cells where it is used as fuel by the body. We obtain glucose from the food that we eat, either from sweet foods or from the digestion of starchy foods such as bread or potatoes. The liver can also make glucose.

After a meal, the blood glucose level rises and insulin is released into the blood. When the blood glucose level falls - for example, during physical activity - the level of insulin falls. Insulin, therefore, plays a vital role in regulating the level of blood glucose and, in particular, in stopping the blood glucose from rising too high.

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

Type 1 diabetes develops when there is no insulin in the body because the cells in the pancreas that produce it have been destroyed. This type of diabetes usually appears in people under the age of 40, often in childhood. It is treated by insulin injections and diet.

Type 2 diabetes develops when the body can still produce some insulin, though not enough for its needs, or when the insulin that the body produces does not work properly. This type of diabetes usually appears in people over the age of 40. It is treated by diet and exercise alone, or by a combination of diet and tablets, or in some instances by a combination of diet and insulin injections.

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

The main symptoms of diabetes are:

Increased thirst
Blurred vision
Frequent visits to the toilet (especially at night)
Genital itching or regular bouts of thrush
Weight loss
Extreme tiredness

Type 2 diabetes develops slowly and the symptoms are usually less pronounced. Some people may not notice any symptoms at all and their diabetes is only picked up in a routine medical check up. Some people may put the symptoms down to 'getting older' or 'overwork'.

Type 1 diabetes develops much more quickly, usually over a few weeks, and symptoms are normally very obvious. In both types of diabetes, the symptoms are quickly relieved once the diabetes is treated. Early treatment will also reduce the chances of developing serious health problems.

Who gets diabetes and what causes it?
Diabetes is a common health condition. About 1.4 million people in the UK are known to have diabetes – that’s about three in every 100 people. And there are an estimated one million people in the UK who have diabetes but don't know it. Over three-quarters of people with diabetes have Type 2 diabetes. Although the condition can occur at any age, it is less common in infants and becomes more common as people get older.

Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes develops when the insulin producing cells in the pancreas have been destroyed. Nobody knows for sure why these cells have been damaged but the most likely cause is an abnormal reaction of the body to the cells. This may be triggered by a viral or other infection. This type of diabetes generally affects younger people. Both sexes are affected equally.

Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes used to be called 'maturity onset' diabetes because it usually appears in middle-aged or elderly people, although it does occasionally appear in younger people. The main causes are that the body no longer responds normally to its own insulin, and/or that the body does not produce enough insulin.

People who are overweight are particularly likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. It tends to run in families and is more common in Asian and African-Caribbean communities. 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.

Other causes of diabetes
There are some other causes of diabetes, including certain diseases of the pancreas, but they are all quite rare. Sometimes an accident or an illness may reveal diabetes if it is already there, but they do not cause it.

How diabetes is treated?
Although diabetes cannot be cured, it can be treated very successfully. Knowing why people with diabetes develop high blood glucose levels will help you to understand how some of the treatments work.

Blood glucose levels

When sugar and starchy foods have been digested, they turn into glucose. If somebody has diabetes, the glucose in their body is not turned into energy, either because there is not enough insulin in their body, or because the insulin that the body produces is not working properly. This causes the liver to make more glucose than usual but the body still cannot turn the glucose into energy. The body then breaks down its stores of fat and protein to try to release more glucose but still this glucose cannot be turned into energy. This is why people with untreated diabetes often feel tired and lose weight. The unused glucose passes into the urine, which is why people with untreated diabetes pass large amounts of urine and are extremely thirsty.

Treatment for Type 1 Diabetes
People with Type 1 diabetes need injections of insulin for the rest of their lives and also need to eat a healthy diet that contains the right balance of foods. Insulin cannot be taken by mouth because it is destroyed by the digestive juices in the stomach. People with this type of diabetes commonly take either two or four injections of insulin daily.
If you or someone close to you needs insulin injections, your doctor or diabetes nurse will talk to you, show you how to do them and give you support and help. They will also show you how you can do a simple blood or urine test at home to measure your glucose levels. This will enable you to adjust your insulin and diet according to your daily routine. Your doctor or diabetes nurse will advise you what to do if your glucose level is too low.

If you have Type 1 diabetes, your insulin injections are vital to keep you alive and you must have them every day.

Treatments for Type 2 diabetes
People with Type 2 diabetes need to eat a healthy diet that contains the right balance of foods. If your doctor or diabetes nurse finds that this alone is not enough to keep your blood glucose levels normal, you may also need to take tablets.

Reducing the risk of serious health problems
People with diabetes have a higher chance of developing certain serious health problems, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, circulation problems, nerve damage, and damage to the kidneys and eyes. The risk is particularly high for people with diabetes who are also very overweight, who smoke or who are not physically active.
You will greatly reduce your risk of developing any of these complications by controlling your blood glucose and blood pressure levels, and by eating healthily and doing regular physical activity.

Regular medical check-ups

In the last 10 to 20 years, the care for people with diabetes has improved dramatically. One of the most important developments has been improved methods of screening which will help your doctor to pick up any health problems at an early stage so they can be treated more successfully. This is why having regular medical check-ups, at least annually, is so important. Maintaining a sensible weight is a variable that can help reduce your chances of developing diabetes. Check whether you have a healthy weight on our BMI Calculator.

For further Information on diabetes contact Diabetes UK on : Tel 020 7323 1531



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