Diabetes is a potentially life threatening condition that causes a person’s blood sugar level to become too high. Here in the UK, it is thought that around 3 million people are affected by diabetes and a further 850,000 people go undiagnosed.
In the US it is estimated that 26 million people have diabetes, or 8% of the country’s population and last year (2012) it is estimated to have cost $245 billion in direct medical costs and lost productivity.
Types of Diabetes
There are two main types of diabetes, called type 1 and type 2. Type 1 Diabetes means the body is unable to produce insulin. It is often referred to as juvenile diabetes or early-onset diabetes, because it normally develops before the age of 40 and usually during the teenage years.
In type 1 Diabetes, the pancreas is unable produce insulin, the hormone that regulates blood glucose levels. Anyone with type 1 Diabetes will need to take insulin injections for life. But it’s important to make sure that blood glucose levels stay balanced, by eating a healthy diet, taking regular exercise and having regular blood tests.
Type 2-Diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin to function properly, or the body’s cells don’t react to insulin. This form of diabetes is far more common than type 1. For example in the UK, about 90% of all adults with diabetes have type 2 Diabetes. Type 2 Diabetes generally affects people over the age of 40, although increasingly younger people are also being affected.
Causes of type 2 diabetes
Insulin is a hormone produced by part of the pancreas, a large gland located behind the stomach. Insulin controls the amount of glucose in the blood, moving glucose from the blood into cells, where it’s converted into energy.
In type 2 Diabetes, not enough insulin is produced to maintain a normal blood glucose level, (known as insulin deficiency) or the body is unable to use the insulin that is produced effectively (known as insulin resistance).
Treating type 2 Diabetes
It is important that diabetes is diagnosed as early as possible. There is no cure for diabetes, but treatment aims to keep blood glucose levels as normal as possible to control symptoms and minimise health problems developing later on in life. In some cases of type 2 Diabetes it may be possible to control symptoms by altering our lifestyle, such as eating a healthy diet.
However, as type 2 Diabetes is a progressive condition, medications may eventually be needed to keep blood glucose at normal levels. Initially, this will usually be in tablet form, but later on may need to include insulin injections.
Left untreated, Diabetes can cause many serious health problems. Large amounts of glucose can damage blood vessels, nerves and organs. A mildly raised glucose level that doesn’t cause any obvious symptoms can also have damaging effects in the long term. Complications can include heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, blindness, liver disease and nervous system problems.
Looking after our health also makes treating diabetes easier, more effective and minimises our risk of developing complications such as those stated above. Diabetes is connected to obesity and can run in families.
Finally, it is important for anyone potentially at risk, to eat a healthy balanced diet, stop smoking, reduce alcohol intake altogether and take regular exercise.