Diabetes is a lifelong condition that causes a person’s blood sugar level to become too high.
Types of diabetes
There are two main types of diabetes, referred to as type 1 and type 2.
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 is known as insulin resistance.
Type 2 diabetes is far more common than type 1 diabetes, which occurs when the body doesn’t produce any insulin at all. In the UK, about 90% of all adults with diabetes have type 2 diabetes.
This topic focuses on type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes usually affects people over the age of 40, although increasingly younger people are also being affected. It is more common in people of South Asian, African-Caribbean or Middle Eastern descent.
Diabetes can cause various symptoms. Symptoms common to both types of diabetes include:
feeling very thirsty
urinating frequently, particularly at night
feeling very tired
weight loss and loss of muscle bulk
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 (sugar) in your blood. It moves glucose from the blood into your cells, where it is converted into energy.
In type 2 diabetes, not enough insulin is produced to maintain a normal blood glucose level (insulin deficiency), or your body is unable to use the insulin that is produced effectively (insulin resistance).
Treating type 2 diabetes
It is important diabetes is diagnosed as early as possible. Diabetes cannot be cured, but treatment aims to keep your blood glucose levels as normal as possible to control your symptoms and minimise health problems developing later.
If you are diagnosed with diabetes, you may be referred to a diabetes care team for specialist treatment, or your GP surgery may provide first line diabetes care.
In some cases of type 2 diabetes, it may be possible to control your symptoms by altering your lifestyle, such as eating a healthy diet.
However, as type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition, you may eventually need medication to keep your blood glucose at normal levels. To start with this will usually take the form of tablets, but later on it may include injected therapies, such as insulin.
Left untreated, diabetes can cause many health problems. Large amounts of glucose can damage blood vessels, nerves and organs.
Even a mildly raised glucose level that doesn’t cause any symptoms can have damaging effects in the long term.