Diabetes is a lifelong condition in which the level of glucose in your blood, also known as your blood sugar level, is too high.
Your body’s glucose levels are controlled by the hormone insulin, which is made in your pancreas. When you eat, glucose from food is digested and absorbed into the bloodstream where insulin is responsible for moving it into cells where it can be used as a source of energy. Diabetes is caused by your body not producing enough insulin, or by your body not responding to insulin. As a result, the movement of glucose into your cells is hindered and blood glucose levels become too high. Long term, this can lead to damaged blood vessels and organs.
There are two main types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is often diagnosed in childhood and refers to a condition in which the body’s immune system attacks cells, which produce insulin, in the pancreas. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin, or when the body’s cells do not respond to insulin. Type 2 diabetes tends to develop later in life and is closely related to obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
A third type of diabetes is gestational diabetes, which sometimes develops during pregnancy and usually disappears after giving birth. Gestational diabetes occurs when the body cannot produce enough insulin to meet demands during pregnancy.
Gestational diabetes affects pregnant women, usually during the second half of pregnancy. It occurs when the body is unable to produce enough insulin to transfer glucose into cells while the body is under the additional strain of pregnancy. It can be experienced by any woman during pregnancy, although you are more likely if:
If you are over 45 years old, you should go for regular screening appointments to check if you have diabetes. When diabetes is spotted early, it is much easier to manage and the risk of more serious complications can be greatly reduced. If you are at risk of developing diabetes, there are a few early signs of diabetes you should look out for, including:
The symptoms of type 1 diabetes often appear rapidly and are usually the primary indicator of the condition. Symptoms of type 2 diabetes can take time to develop and may go unnoticed for some time, which is why regular screening appointments are recommended. Type 1 and type 2 diabetes symptoms include:
Type 1 diabetes also has symptoms such as unplanned weight loss and nausea or vomiting. When your body is struggling to get energy from your food, it resorts instead to burning muscle and fat. As a byproduct of this process the body produces ketones, a build up of which can become life-threatening.
Symptoms of type 1 diabetes are often sudden and are themselves the cause for diagnosis. However, the symptoms of type 2 diabetes can appear gradually and require a blood test to confirm. Certain people are more at risk of developing type 2 diabetes and should regularly attend screening appointments. You should go for regular screening if:
Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong condition that cannot be cured but is effectively managed with insulin replacement therapy and regularly checking your blood sugar levels. However, type 2 diabetes can be reversed with the correct lifestyle changes, weight loss and treatment. Otherwise, type 2 diabetes can similarly be managed, to prevent long term damage to your blood vessels and organs, with medicines and regular appointments with your doctor.
The treatment for type 2 diabetes is maintaining a healthy lifestyle and, if needed, prescription medicines such as metformin or insulin. Your doctor or dietician can help you create a diet plan that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and wholegrains. You should cut down on refined carbohydrates, sugars and saturated fats. Aerobic exercise (such as walking, cycling or swimming) can help lower blood sugar levels by moving glucose into your cells to be used for energy. Generally, exercise increases your body’s sensitivity to insulin, meaning you will need less insulin to help get glucose into your cells. You will also regularly see your doctor for health screening.
Treatment for type 1 diabetes involves regular blood sugar checks and insulin injections, or the use of an insulin pump.
Alongside medicines and insulin, the best way to manage diabetes is to practise having a healthy diet, exercising regularly and seeing your doctor for health screening. It is important to monitor your carbohydrate intake and make sure your diet includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and lean proteins. Talk to your doctor about arranging your meals and your diabetes medicines to avoid hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or hyperglycemia (high blood sugar). You should avoid drinking sugary drinks unless you experience an episode of low blood sugar, in which case they can help quickly raise your blood sugar levels back to normal.
Speak to your doctor about whether you can drink alcohol with your diabetes. If the answer is yes, be aware that alcohol can result in low blood sugar levels lasting for 24 hours or more. Never drink on an empty stomach and always calculate the calories of each beverage.
Regular exercise is a great way of lowering your blood sugar levels and can also help your body to use insulin more efficiently. Adults are recommended to exercise for at least 30 minutes per day, or on most days of the week. Even light exercise, such as going for a brisk walk, can help. A doctor can help you put together an exercise plan.
For some women with diabetes, hormonal changes during their menstrual cycle can influence their blood sugar levels. So, try keeping track of any monthly patterns and speak to your doctor about how you should adjust your treatment. If you know that your blood sugar levels become more unpredictable at certain times of the month, check your blood sugar more frequently.
While type 1 diabetes cannot be cured or reversed, it is possible to reverse type 2 diabetes progression and even put it into remission. The best way to do this is by making long term lifestyle changes that will improve your overall health. These include a balanced healthy diet and a regular exercise plan. It is important to speak to a healthcare professional for their advice before making any lifestyle changes.
Diabetes is easily managed if diagnosed and treated early. Untreated high glucose levels can cause serious health complications, including nerve damage, kidney damage, eye damage and an increased risk of heart disease or stroke. Extremely high blood sugar levels can even lead to coma. If you notice any of the early symptoms of diabetes, speak to a healthcare professional immediately.
Making strict dietary changes is essential to managing diabetes. Alongside including plenty of fibre and lean proteins in your diet, you should make a conscious effort to cut down on sugar, processed meat, saturated fats, salt and processed foods like crisps, cakes and biscuits.
Diabetes can have serious long term complications, particularly if blood sugar levels are not properly controlled. Possible complications of diabetes include:
High blood sugar levels can damage your blood vessels. Capillaries are the smallest blood vessels which are the most easily damaged and without them your nerves will not get the oxygen and nutrients they need to maintain their proper functions. This is most common in your feet and legs. This can result in numbness or tingling, or complete loss of sensation. Damage can also be done to the nerves connected to the digestive system resulting in nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea or constipation, or more permanent damage.
Diabetes can affect your heart. High levels of glucose in the blood can damage both the blood vessels and the nerves that control the heart and blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke. The risk increases the longer you have diabetes, but can be controlled if blood glucose levels are managed effectively.
If diabetes is not managed effectively, diabetes can have very serious complications which can be fatal. The condition is much easier to manage if diagnosed early on, so it is important to keep an eye out for symptoms and go for regular screenings if you are considered to be at risk of developing diabetes.