November 14th is World Diabetes Day – let's look more closely at the symptoms and treatment of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes is a lifelong yet treatable condition. By spotting the signs and symptoms early, this can help you lead a healthier lifestyle and ensure that you are not at risk of any long term damage to your health.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is when a person has too much sugar – known as glucose – in their blood. Sugar in the blood is controlled by insulin, a vital hormone produced in the pancreas (a small glandular organ which sits behind the stomach). Insulin moves glucose out of the blood and into cells where it is then broken down into energy1.
When a person has diabetes, they're unable to break down glucose and turn it into energy because they do not produce any or enough insulin, or the insulin is not functioning properly.
Type 1 diabetes
This is the more serious type of diabetes and can be a genetic condition i.e. if you have a parent or sibling with type 1 diabetes, you have a 6% chance of developing the condition, compared to a 0.5% chance of developing it without the hereditary factor. With type 1, the body's immune system attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas, so insulin cannot be produced. Without insulin, your body cannot move glucose out of your bloodstream and into your cells, and energy is not produced2. People with type 1 diabetes are at risk of complications in later life including blindness, loss of limbs, heart disease and stroke, and nerve damage3.
Type 2 diabetes
This is the most common type of diabetes in the UK – around 90% of diabetes patients have type 24. When you have type 2 diabetes, your pancreas does not produce enough insulin to control the levels of sugar in your blood, or the cells in your body are not responding properly. When blood sugar levels are too high or low, this is known as hyperglycaemia. This occurs when a person overeats, is unwell, or has not properly taken their diabetes medication.
What are the main symptoms of diabetes?
With type 1 diabetes, the symptoms develop very rapidly. People with type 1 diabetes may experience development of the condition after a few weeks or in young people, a matter of days. People who have type 2 diabetes may be undiagnosed for years as the symptoms are general and not particularly unique. However, it's important to keep an eye on your health.
You should see your doctor if you are experiencing all or many of these symptoms on a regular basis:
- Constantly feeling thirsty (polydipsia)
- Needing a wee more often (polyuria)
- Increased appetite (polyphagia)
- Feeling tired all the time
- Weight loss and loss of muscle
- Blurred eyesight
- Itching around the penis or vagina, or frequent symptoms of thrush
The first three on this list are the most common symptoms of diabetes, and are directly caused by hyperglycaemia. You may also experience nerve damage, whereby you feel pain or numbness in your feet and legs, and any cuts or wounds take a longer time than normal to heal5.
Is there a cure?
There is no cure for diabetes, but early diagnosis is highly important in order to reduce the chances of serious health complications later on. Diabetes is treated by controlling the levels of sugar in the blood. Type 1 diabetes is treated with medication, such as insulin injections alongside tablets which treat blood glucose that is either too high or too low. People with type 1 diabetes will also have to monitor their blood glucose throughout each day.
- People with both type 1 and type 2 will need to take care of their general health:
- Exercise regularly
- Sustain a healthy weight and BMI
- Eat healthily
How do I prevent my risk of developing diabetes?
People over the age of 40 are more susceptible to diabetes, as are obese people. Both types of diabetes are not 100% preventable, but you can lower the risk of the more common type 2 diabetes by staying at a healthy weight, avoiding lots of processed and sugary foods, and exercising regularly.
World Diabetes Day
World Diabetes Day takes place every year on the 14th November. On this day, people from around the world raise awareness of the condition and people share their stories about living with diabetes. Find out more on the BMI website.
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