There are 2.3 million people in the UK that are known to have diabetes, and it is estimated that more than half a million people have the condition without knowing it. Here are the rest of the facts.
What is it?
Diabetes occurs when your body cannot use glucose (sugar) properly due to lack of insulin. As a result, the sugar level in your blood gets too high for comfort. Your body is not able to turn glucose into energy, which results in fatigue, weight loss and frequent urine passes. In the long run, the condition also causes serious complications such as blindness, kidney failure, heart disease and stroke, as well as nerve damage that could, in extreme cases, lead to amputations.
What causes it?
Diabetes can occur at any age, although it is less common in young people and becomes a more likely prospect as you get older. There are two different types of diabetes:
- Type 1 diabetes: This is the type that affects younger people. It develops when the insulin-producing cells in your body have been destroyed as a reaction from your own body. The cause of the damage is still unknown, but it is most likely to be triggered by a viral or other infection.
- Type 2 diabetes: This type of diabetes usually appears in older people, mainly as a result of ageing. However it can also attack young people, particularly if you are of Asian or African-Caribbean origin, have a family history of diabetes, have given birth to a large baby or are overweight; those at risk are men with a 37 inch waist or above, and women with a 31.5 inch waist or above.
- There are other causes of diabetes, including certain diseases of the pancreas, but they are very rare.
What are the symptoms?
- Increased thirst.
- Going to the loo all the time - especially at night.
- Extreme fatigue.
- Weight loss.
- Genital itching or regular episodes of thrush.
- Blurred vision.
Type 1 diabetes develops more quickly than Type 2, and the symptoms are normally a lot more obvious. Because of this, some people wrongly describe Type 2 diabetes as 'mild' diabetes. But there is no such thing as mild diabetes - all diabetes should be taken seriously and treated properly.
How is it treated?
Although diabetes cannot be cured, it can be treated very successfully. If you have Type 1 diabetes, you will need insulin injections for the rest of your life; either two or four injections each day. This treatment is combined with a healthy diet that contains the right balance of foods. Your doctor or diabetic nurse can teach you to measure your own glucose levels, so you can adjust your insulin and diet.
People with Type 2 diabetes also need to eat a healthy diet and are usually prescribed tablets to help increase the quality or quantity of insulin.
How can the risk be reduced?
- Control your blood glucose and blood pressure levels.
- Eat healthily.
- Exercise regularly.
- Reduce smoking.
- Have regular medical check-ups, at least once a year. This is important because any problems can be picked up at an early stage and treated more successfully.
- If you're already diagnosed with diabetes, follow the treatment plan carefully.
- Eating too much sugar does NOT cause diabetes, but can increase risk if your family has a history of diabetes.
- Stress does not cause diabetes, but can make the symptoms worse in people who already have the condition.
- Diabetes is not contagious, although there seems to be some genetic link particularly in Type 2.
- You are no more likely to get colds or other illnesses if you've got diabetes. However, you are advised to get flu jabs to reducerisk of any kind of infection.
- Having diabetes may stop you from doing particular jobs.
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