Diabetes is a condition characterized by raised blood levels of glucose or “blood sugar”.
Glucose is an essential source of energy, which is taken up by cells under the influence of a pancreatic hormone called Insulin.
High blood levels of glucose can be caused by one of two factors:
- Inability to produce Insulin (Type 1 Diabetes):
The pancreas does not produce any Insulin and glucose is therefore not absorbed by cells and accumulates in the blood.
- Reduced production of Insulin or tissue resistance to Insulin (Type 2 Diabetes):
Makes up 90% of diabetic cases. The pancreas produces less Insulin than needed or the cells become resistant to the actions of Insulin.
Being overweight has been strongly linked to the development of type 2 Diabetics. Pregnancy can cause raised blood sugar levels in certain individuals, which may revert to normal after delivery.
What can put you at risk?
Type 1 Diabetes:
Type 1 diabetes is considered an autoimmune disease when the human body incorrectly attacks its own healthy cells of the pancreas, mistaking them for a foreign invader in the body. These cells are responsible for producing the hormone insulin.
Type 2 Diabetes:
Type 2 Diabetes is linked to lifestyle factors, including:
- Obesity - a waist circumference of or more than 80cm for women, 94cm for Caucasian males and 90cm for Asian men
- Poor diet, including a history of high blood pressure and high cholesterol
- Physical inactivity
Other factors that you can't control, include:
- Family history of type 2 Diabetes - close relatives (parents or siblings)
- Increasing age - 40 years or older
- Ethnicity - the risk for South Asian is up to 6 times higher, while for African and African-Caribbean populations it is 3 times higher and increased risk comes at the age of 25 and over
- A history of gestational Diabetes
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
- Illnesses such as pancreatitis which damages pancreatic tissue.
Why is it important to treat Diabetes?
Persistent high levels of blood sugar can cause irreversible damage to organs including your eyes, heart, kidneys and brain. Long-term damage to the vascular system can restrict peripheral circulation and cause neuropathy (altered sensation due to involvement of peripheral nerves).
Diabetics are also more prone to opportunistic infections such as fungal infections. Maintaining good levels of blood sugar will reduce the risk of developing these complications.
What can I do to manage Diabetes?
The goal of Diabetes management is to reduce levels of blood sugar and to optimise cholesterol and blood pressure levels. You can be proactive in the management of your Diabetics.
If you have been prescribed medication or Insulin injections, it is vital to take it as prescribed. This will limit short and long term complications.
- Self monitoring and attending regular check-ups at your local Diabetes clinic.
- Follow a healthy diet – low in sugar, fat and salt and high in fibre. It is important to see a dietician or nutritionist after initial diagnosis for detailed dietary advice.
- Regular exercise – Aim to do 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise e.g. brisk walking 5 times a week.
- Weight control.
- Avoid smoking and alcohol.
- Maintain a blood pressure below 130/80 and a total cholesterol level below 4mmol/l. This is sometimes only achievable with medication.
- Attend yearly eye checks and foot examinations. This is provided free of charge through the NHS.
- Report any concerning symptoms to your Diabetes team
Related tests and scans
Waiting for blood tests and results can be an anxious time. If you’ve been referred by a GP for a test and don’t want to worry or wait, Nuffield Health can help. Our national network of fully accredited laboratories delivers fast, reliable results at a competitive price – wherever you are in the UK.