Diabetes is a chronic health condition, where the body cannot maintain glucose (a type of sugar) at the appropriate levels in the blood.
Insulin is the hormone that is normally produced by the body, and enables our cells to use glucose as a fuel.
There are two main types of diabetes:
- Type 1 diabetes - when the cells in the pancreas are being destroyed and the body no longer produces insulin. Glucose cannot enter the body’s cells any more and accumulates in the blood
- Type 2 diabetes - when the body either cannot produce enough insulin, or the body cannot use the insulin that is produced properly (this is called insulin resistance)
In type 1 diabetes, we are not entirely sure what makes the body destroy its own insulin-producing cells, but it is likely that this process is triggered by a virus or another infection. It can develop at any age but it is most common in childhood and usually appears before the age of 40.
Type 2 diabetes usually appears in people over 40, though it often appears earlier in people who are South Asian or Black. It is also becoming more common in children, adolescents and young people of all ethnicities as obesity levels rise.
People with ‘pre-diabetes’ have glucose levels that are higher than normal, but not high enough yet to indicate they have diabetes. People with pre-diabetes are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes and are at higher risk of developing heart disease.
How is diabetes currently treated?
Diabetes cannot be cured, but it can be managed very successfully. The type of treatment depends on the type and the severity of diabetes they have.
Type 1 diabetes is usually treated with regular insulin injections, together with a healthy diet and regular physical activity.
Type 2 diabetes can initially be treated with a healthy diet and lifestyle changes. With time many people will need to take tablets to control their blood glucose or will need to inject insulin.
Controlling the levels of glucose in the body is important. If glucose levels are too high (hyperglycaemia) and are not treated, many of the body's systems can be seriously damaged, especially the nerves and blood vessels. This can lead to eye or kidney damage and an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes or lower limb amputations.
If levels are too low (hypoglycaemia), people feel 'shaky', dizzy or, in severe cases, can result in a coma.
As diabetes is one of the most challenging threats to public health, we urgently need to find new, better and more sustainable ways of diagnosing and treating diabetes.
To find out more about diabetes, visit the Diabetes UK website.
Did you know...
- Around 350 million people in the world are living with diabetes. In the UK alone, around 2.9 million people have been diagnosed with diabetes and there may be 850,000 people who have the condition but don't know it
- Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, accounting for around 85-95 per cent of all people with diabetes. Type 1 diabetes accounts for 5-10% of all cases with diabetes
- The cost of diabetes to the National Health Service is £1m per hour or 10% of the total NHS budget for England and Wales. This equates to £16,666 being spent on diabetes every minute
- In total, £9 billion pounds is spent a year on treating diabetes and it's complications
- A recent NHS report found that the cost of drugs and treatments to treat people with diabetes had risen by 40% from £458.6 million in 2004/5 to £649.2 million in 2009/10