What is diabetes?

Most of the food you eat is turned into glucose for your body to use for energy. Your pancreas makes a hormone called insulin to help glucose get into the cells of your body. Your diabetes is a common life-long condition where the amount of glucose in your blood is too high as your body cannot use it properly. This is because your pancreas does not produce any or not enough insulin, or the insulin that is produced doesn’t work properly.

Diabetes Types & Symptoms

You are one of more than 220 million people worldwide that have one of the following types of diabetes:

Type 1 diabetes develops when the insulin-producing cells have been destroyed and the body is unable to produce any insulin. Usually it appears before the age of 40, and especially in childhood. It is treated with daily administration of insulin either by injection or pump, a healthy diet and regular physical activity. Symptoms include frequent urination, excessive thirst, extreme hunger, unusual weight loss, vision changes, fatigue and irritability. These symptoms may occur suddenly.

Type 2 diabetes develops when the body does not produce enough insulin or the insulin that is produced does not work properly. Usually it appears in people aged over 40 as a result of excess body weight and physical inactivity, though in South Asian and Black people it can appear from the age of 25. It is becoming more common in children and young people of all ethnicities. This condition is treated with a healthy diet and regular physical activity, but medication and/or insulin is often required. Symptoms may be similar to those of Type 1 diabetes (others include frequent infections, blurred vision, cuts/bruises that are slow to heal, tingling/numbness in the hands/feet, recurring skin, gum or bladder infections) but are often less marked. As a result, the disease may be diagnosed several years after onset once complications have already arisen.

Gestational diabetes is hyperglycaemia (abnormally high blood sugar levels) with onset or first recognition during pregnancy. This condition is most often diagnosed through prenatal screening rather than reported symptoms (similar to Type 2 diabetes).

Impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) and impaired fasting glycaemia (IFG) are intermediate conditions in the transition between normality and diabetes.

Who is at Greater Risk for Type 2 Diabetes?

  • Individuals with impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) and/or impaired fasting glucose (IFG)
  • People over 45 years or with a family history of diabetes
  • Those who are overweight, do not exercise regularly, have low HDL cholesterol or high triglycerides, high blood pressure
  • Certain racial and ethnic groups
  • Women who had gestational diabetes, or who have had a baby weighing 9 pounds or more at birth.

Download ‘What is Diabetes?’ leaflet

Download ‘Diabetes & Pregnancy’ leaflet

Download ‘Diabetic Ketoacidosis’ leaflet