Diabetes causes the level of glucose, or sugar, in a person’s blood to become too high. Once you have diabetes, you have it for life, but it can be kept under control. In some patients with type 2 diabetes a healthy balanced diet and regular exercise may be sufficient. Many patients will also require medication and may need to do regular blood tests to help control the blood glucose levels, particularly if they need insulin injections as part of their treatment.
Normally, when the glucose from digested food enters the bloodstream, insulin is produced to help the body convert the sugar into energy. But, if you have diabetes the pancreas can’t produce enough insulin, or the insulin doesn’t work properly, and your body can’t turn the glucose into fuel for energy. Instead, glucose stays in the blood and builds up dangerously.
Type 1 diabetes is when your immune system wrongly thinks the cells in your pancreas which make insulin are actually a threat to your health … and attacks and destroys them. You’re not producing insulin any more to help glucose enter your cells and be used for energy. As glucose levels rise, your body breaks down its own fat and muscle. This can make you very unwell and dehydrated and without insulin you can die.
One in ten people with diabetes has Type 1. Usually it’s inherited and there is nothing you can do to avoid developing it. It’s more usual before the age of 40, especially in children and teenagers.
The other 90 % of diabetes cases are Type 2, which is when your pancreas isn’t producing enough insulin, or the insulin just isn’t working properly. It’s more common in people over 40, or people of South Asian origin who are over 25. People of African-Caribbean and Middle Eastern origins are also more commonly affected. It also affects people who are overweight, and those who’ve had heart attacks and strokes.
For Type 2 diabetics, a change in diet and lifestyle can be enough to make things better, but it can be necessary to take medication.
It’s really important to get diabetes under control as soon as possible, and to follow the treatment carefully. Diabetes which is out of control can lead to heart disease or strokes, ulcerated and infected feet, blindness, nerve damage, or kidney disease.[clear-line]
These BSL clips were made by SignHealth with help and information from the NHS. There is more information at www.nhs.uk/conditions/diabetes