Diabetes is a life-long condition that occurs when the amount of glucose in the blood is too high because the body can’t use it properly. Left untreated, high blood glucose causes very serious health complications.
There are two main types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2. They are different diseases, both are serious and need to be managed properly.
When to see a doctor
If your parent has symptoms, such as feeling thirsty, passing urine more often than usual, and feeling tired all the time they should visit the GP as soon as possible. It’s very important to get a diagnosis as early as possible because it will get progressively worse if left untreated.
- feeling very thirsty
- urinating more frequently than usual, particularly at night
- feeling very tired
- weight loss and loss of muscle bulk
- itching around the penis or vagina, or frequent episodes of thrush
- cuts or wounds that heal slowly
- blurred vision
Type 1 diabetes can develop quickly over weeks or even days.
Many people have type 2 for years without realising because the early symptoms tend to be general.
The main causes
The amount of sugar in the blood is controlled by a hormone called insulin, which is produced by the pancreas (a gland behind the stomach).
When food is digested and enters the bloodstream, insulin moves glucose out of the blood and into cells, where it’s broken down to produce energy.
However, in this case, the body is unable to break down glucose into energy. This is because there’s either not enough insulin to move the glucose, or the insulin produced doesn’t work properly.
Type 1 diabetes
In type 1, the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin. As no insulin is produced, glucose levels increase, which can seriously damage the body’s organs.
Type 1 is often known as insulin-dependent diabetes. It’s also sometimes known as juvenile or early-onset diabetes because it usually develops before the age of 40, often during childhood.
In the UK, it affects about 10% of all adults with diabetes.
If diagnosed with type 1, you’ll need insulin injections for the rest of your life.
You’ll also need to pay close attention to certain aspects of your lifestyle and health to ensure your blood glucose levels stay balanced.
For example, you’ll need to eat healthily, take regular exercise and carry out regular blood tests.
Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 is where the body doesn’t produce enough insulin, or the body’s cells don’t react to insulin. This is known as insulin resistance.
If diagnosed with type 2, it may be possible to control symptoms simply by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and monitoring blood glucose levels.
However, as type 2 is a progressive condition, you may eventually need medication, usually in the form of tablets at the beginning before moving on to more progressive medication as the condition changes.
Type 2 is associated with obesity and traditionally affected older people, however, given the rise of people who are overweight, it occurring earlier in life.
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