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Diabetes is a disease that causes a person's blood glucose levels to become too high. There are two main types – type 1 and type 2.

What causes diabetes?

A hormone called insulin, which is produced in the pancreas, controls our blood glucose levels. It moves the glucose produced from food out of the bloodstream and into our cells where it can be used as energy.

However, if you have diabetes, your body won't produce enough insulin, or do so efficiently enough, to complete this task.

Glucose is important – it's our main source of energy, but if you have too much in your bloodstream it can lead to health problems.

What are the different types of diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong condition which affects around 1 in 10 people in the UK. As with other types of diabetes, it occurs when the pancreas is producing little or no insulin.

We don't know the exact cause of type 1 diabetes, but know that it's not linked to age, diet or lifestyle.

It's thought that genetics can play a role, as well as other environmental factors. 

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is also caused by blood glucose levels being too high because the insulin produced by the pancreas can't work as it should or your pancreas can't make enough insulin. About 9 in 10 people with diabetes in the UK have type 2. 

There are many different causes, but unlike type 1 diabetes, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes does increase as you get older, especially if:

  • you're overweight
  • you've ever had high blood pressure
  • a close family member has diabetes
  • you're of South Asian, African-Caribbean or Black African descent.

The most likely factor is a family history of type 2 diabetes. 

What are the main symptoms of diabetes?

The main signs of diabetes are:

  • feeling very thirsty
  • going to the toilet more than usual
  • feeling very tired
  • weight loss
  • blurred vision
  • cuts or wounds that take a while to heal.

Over a longer period, high blood glucose can damage your heart, eyes, feet and kidneys, so it's important to contact a doctor if you're worried that you have any of these symptoms.

They can test you for diabetes – this is usually a simple urine and blood test. The sooner you're diagnosed, the sooner you can begin to manage the condition. 

Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in childhood or in young adulthood, but the symptoms of type 2 can develop slowly.

How is diabetes treated?

Being diagnosed with diabetes can be difficult to deal with. There isn’t currently a cure for diabetes, but we've come a long way and it's now a condition that many people live long and full lives with.

The type of treatment you will receive will depend on the type of diabetes you have:

  • Type 1 diabetes is treated by taking insulin – either by an injection or a pump. It's important to test your blood glucose regularly – especially before and after meals  to make sure the blood glucose levels are not too high or too low. With the right treatment, type 1 diabetes can be managed.
  • Type 2 diabetes is treated by taking medicine that’s prescribed by your doctor to lower the amount of glucose in your blood to a safer level. They may also advise that you eat healthier, lose weight and be more active. Type 2 diabetes can be managed and potentially reversed with the right treatment and care.

What is prediabetes?

Prediabetes means your blood sugar levels are higher than they should be and, although they aren't high enough for you to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, it does mean you're at a high risk of developing it. It isn't a clinical term, but you might hear it used so it's good to know what it means.

Having prediabetes doesn’t mean you will definitely get type 2 diabetes, but it's a good time to make changes to your lifestyle by trying to eat healthier and be more active.

How can I reduce my risk of diabetes?

Unfortunately, type 1 diabetes can't be prevented and is usually diagnosed early in life. But it's possible to control it and live well through a combination of monitoring blood glucose levels and injecting insulin.

There are things you can do to reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes as you get older by improving your diet and lifestyle.

We've put together 5 ways to cut your risk of diabetes for tips on how you can reduce your chances of developing the condition.

Where can I get more advice?

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Last updated: Apr 20 2021

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