Table of Contents
- 1 So, what exactly is diabetes?
- 2 What are the types of diabetes?
- 3 How do I know if I have diabetes?
- 4 Signs and symptoms of diabetes
- 5 What are the complications and risks of having diabetes?
- 6 Living with diabetes and looking after your health
- 7 What is a diabetic diet?
- 8 How to manage blood glucose levels
- 9 Where can I get treatment, help and support for my diabetes?
Diabetes, it’s something to do with sugar, being overweight, and insulin, right? Sort of, but not completely accurate. For many of us, our knowledge of diabetes is limited to this, we’ve all heard of it but many do not actually know what it is or how it affects a person’s daily life unless you have the condition. This Diabetes Awareness Week is all about making those who don’t have the condition more aware of what it means and how it can impact someone’s life, as well as helping those who are not yet aware they have diabetes spot the signs and symptoms. After all, it’s a condition that affects approximately 4 million people in the UK, many of who don’t even know they are diabetic.
Here’s everything you need to know about diabetes.
So, what exactly is diabetes?
Put simply, diabetes develops when blood glucose levels become too high. Glucose or sugar is fuel for the body, it gives us energy, but too much in the blood has serious consequences for our health. Here’s how the body processes blood glucose:
Insulin is an important hormone in the body that helps manage our blood glucose levels ensuring that glucose is used properly and that there isn’t too much or too little in the blood. In a non-diabetic person, the pancreas releases enough insulin for the amount of glucose in the bloodstream, but in diabetes, this process doesn’t work. The reason for this depends on the type of diabetes.
What are the types of diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 is the less common or well known of the two and it’s usually something you're born with. In type 1 diabetes your body can’t make any insulin at all, although glucose is still produced, there’s no insulin to remove it from the bloodstream and into the cells. It’s thought that the body attacks the cells which make insulin and why this happens is still a mystery.
Type 2 diabetes
Most people are aware of type 2 diabetes as it’s the most common type, affecting 90% of people with diabetes. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the insulin that is produced is not working effectively or not enough is produced by the pancreas to move glucose from the blood and into the cells to be used as energy, and instead, it builds up in the blood. Type 2 diabetes is associated more with lifestyle as it’s more likely to develop later on in adult life.
Diabetes during pregnancy?
Yes, you can develop diabetes during pregnancy even if you’ve never had the condition before, and it may disappear after giving birth. Otherwise known as gestational diabetes, this type usually occurs because the body cannot produce enough insulin to fulfil the extra demand that pregnancy puts on the body, and pregnancy hormones may also affect how insulin is used.
Gestational diabetes can develop at any stage of pregnancy and should be monitored closely to prevent complications for you and your baby, particularly if you’re at a higher risk of developing this condition, for instance, if you’re overweight, have had diabetes in previous pregnancies, or have a family history of the condition.
How do I know if I have diabetes?
The only way to properly know if you have diabetes is to get tested, which is usually done through blood and urine tests. However, there are some warning signs to look out for which may indicate that you have diabetes.
Signs and symptoms of diabetes
As glucose builds up in your bloodstream and isn’t being converted into energy which is essential for our survival, your body will respond in a number of ways. There are some early telltale signs of developing diabetes and these include:
- Extreme thirst
- Extreme tiredness or feeling more tired than usual as your body isn’t being fuelled or energised
- Unintentional weight loss
- Cuts and wounds taking longer to heal
- Blurred vision
- Going to the toilet frequently throughout the day and night as your body tries to flush out the excess glucose
The symptoms will vary between the two types, for instance, weight loss is associated more with type 1, and those with type 2 diabetes may have heart problems.
However, one of the most dangerous aspects of this condition is that often no symptoms show at all and many people can go years without ever knowing they’re diabetic. This has serious consequences if diabetes is not managed and may lead to irreversible complications.
What are the complications and risks of having diabetes?
Being diagnosed with diabetes should be taken seriously, we don’t want to put fear into you as many people live a healthy normal life with diabetes that is managed, but management is the key to this. Looking after yourself will become more stringent when you have diabetes, and getting yourself into a routine with regular health checks and making some lifestyle changes will significantly reduce your risk of complications and put you in good stead for living a long and healthy life.
The most important thing to monitor is your blood glucose levels. If levels are too high this is known as hyperglycemia which can lead to serious and life-threatening complications such as diabetic ketoacidosis and hyperosmolar hyperglycaemic state (HHS), but what do these mean?
This is a serious condition which occurs when the amount of insulin produced rapidly runs low and there is a build-up of harmful substances known as ketones. As ketone levels and blood glucose levels rise this becomes an emergency and will need treating straight away.
Hyperosmolar hyperglycaemic state (HHS)
Without insulin, the only way your body knows how to get rid of excess glucose is by flushing it out through urine which can lead to dehydration. HSS is brought on by high glucose levels and dehydration.
Complications can also happen when glucose levels become too low and this is known as hypoglycemia. ‘Hypos’ can cause dizziness, confusion, sweating, and hunger to name a few and you’ll often find a sugary drink or snack is used to help the symptoms.
Living with diabetes and looking after your health
Looking after your overall health is so important to keeping healthy while living with diabetes and this includes diet, exercise and ensure you’re carrying out the essential health checks. There are specific parts of the body that diabetes can affect as high glucose levels can damage blood vessels and nerves. The feet, legs, and eyes are particularly prone to serious damage if you have diabetes. Loss of sensation in the feet and legs can mean you won’t feel or notice any cuts or wounds on this area of the body, and if left untreated they may develop into serious infections and possibly amputation. It’s vital that you check your feet and legs daily to notice any changes or problems.
Some people with diabetes may also develop sexual problems as there may be damage to the nerves and blood vessels in the sexual organs. Some men may find that they have erection problems such as erectile dysfunction. It’s important to remember that not everyone will experience problems with sex but if you do there is help and treatment available.
Other checks such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and kidney health should also be part of your yearly routine to avoid complications of diabetes.
Take note of the essential healthcare checks below:
What is a diabetic diet?
You may be worrying about what you can eat or what you can cook a loved one who has diabetes, but it doesn’t need to be a worry and it doesn’t mean you have to stop enjoying food. It may mean that you will need to reduce your intake of the foods you enjoy but which are not so good for you such as foods high in salt and fat, fried and greasy foods, sugary drinks and snacks, and alcohol.
Instead, you should start to eat a range of foods that are high in nutrition including fruit, vegetables, fatty fish, nuts and seeds, lean meat, and eggs etc. Basically, a balanced diet that gives you a range of nutritional foods is the best diabetic diet.
How to manage blood glucose levels
Managing diabetes is all about monitoring and controlling the levels of glucose in your blood. You can control your glucose levels naturally by making some lifestyle changes, and eating and exercising well, and in some type 2 cases, this can be enough to reverse the condition. For some, other methods of controlling high blood glucose are necessary.
Blood glucose levels are usually monitored with glucose monitoring devices which involve a painless prick of your finger, or with a sensing device. Abbott Freestyle Libre is an example of a flash glucose monitoring system which records glucose levels throughout the day and night through a sensor which is attached to the body.
Knowing your blood glucose levels is essential to getting the best treatment for you. Diabetes is often treated with insulin and medication, type 1 diabetics will need to take insulin for the rest of their lives and this is often through daily injections. Type 2 diabetes is treated with medication when diet and exercise alone does not effectively reduce glucose levels. The following are commonly prescribed for type 2 diabetes:
Medication usually works by decreasing the amount of glucose produced by the liver and helping the body to respond better to insulin.
Where can I get treatment, help and support for my diabetes?
The first port of call is your GP who will help you to create a treatment plan. Once you have a plan that works for you and you have the right medication, you can go about your life as normally as possible. You may need to visit your GP more frequently for tests, but you can get your treatment through other more convenient ways such as online if visiting your GP face to face is not possible. Doctor-4-U provides all the medications listed above as well as lots of advice and information over on our diabetes page, and we have GMC (General Medical Council) registered doctors who will ensure your suitability for these particular medications before ordering them.
Finding out you have diabetes can be daunting, but living with it doesn’t have to be. With the right treatment and support, you can manage your condition. There are lots of charities available to help those with diabetes including:
- Diabetes UK - https://www.diabetes.org.uk/
- JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation)- https://jdrf.org.uk/
- Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation - https://www.drwf.org.uk/