Diabetes is a lifelong condition that causes a person's blood sugar level to become too high. The hormone insulin is produced by the pancreas and is responsible for controlling the amount of glucose in the blood.
There are two main types of diabetes:
Type 2 diabetes is far more common than Type 1. In the UK around 90% of all adults with diabetes have Type 2. There are 3.9 million people living with diabetes in the UK. That's more than one in 16 people in the UK who has diabetes (diagnosed or undiagnosed). By 2025, it is estimated that 5 million people will have diabetes in the UK. Many more people have blood sugar levels above the normal range, but not high enough to be diagnosed as having diabetes, this is sometimes known as prediabetes. It's very important for diabetes to be diagnosed as early as possible because it will get progressively worse if left untreated.
There is another type of diabetes called Gestational diabetes which is diabetes in pregnancy. During pregnancy, some women have high levels of blood glucose that their body is unable to produce enough insulin to absorb it all. Pregnancy can also make existing type 1 diabetes worse. Gestational diabetes can increase the risk of health problems developing in an unborn baby.
Type 1 diabetes can develop quickly over weeks or even days. Many people have type 2 diabetes for years without realising because the early symptoms tend to be general. It’s important that diabetes is diagnosed as early as possible, so that treatment can be started.
Diabetes can't be cured, but treatment aims to keep your blood glucose levels as normal as possible and control your symptoms and to prevent health problems developing later in life. If you're diagnosed with diabetes, you'll be referred to a diabetes care team for specialist treatment and monitoring.
With Type 1 diabetes, as your body can't produce insulin, you'll need regular insulin injections to keep your glucose levels normal. You'll be taught how to do this and how to match the insulin you inject to the food you eat, taking into account your blood glucose level and how much exercise you do. Insulin injections come in several different forms, with each working slightly differently. Some last up to a whole day (long-acting), some last up to eight hours (short-acting) and some work quickly but don't last very long (rapid-acting). You'll most likely need a combination of different insulin preparations.
With Type 2 diabetes, it usually gets worse over time. Making lifestyle changes, such as adjusting your diet and taking more exercise, may help you control your blood glucose levels at first, but it's not enough in the long term. Eventually the need to take medication to help control your blood glucose levels will occur. Initially, this will usually be in the form of tablets, and can sometimes be a combination of more than one type of tablet. It may also include insulin or other medication that you inject.
There are several different ‘families’ of diabetes medication:
The long term complications, if the blood glucose level is higher than normal over a long period of time, are gradual damage to the blood vessels. This can occur even if the glucose level is not very high above the normal level. This may lead to some of the following complications:
As well as taking your medicines or insulin, there are a few key steps you can take to prevent or delay the health complications associated with diabetes:
There are many local support groups for diabetics and these can be found at your local GP surgery and diabetes clinics. There are also groups online such as Diabetes UK which help other patients deal with diabetes and how it affects them.
If you have any worries or concerns, then please speak to your pharmacist or GP.