BLOG BY Rhiannon Lambert, BSc MSc RNutr

What Is Diabetes & How To Manage It

More people than ever have diabetes, statistics show that 3.9 million people have been diagnosed with diabetes in the UK, with nearly another million undiagnosed bringing the total cases up to more than 4.8 million. If nothing changes, more than 5.3 million people will have diabetes in the UK by 2025.

Diabetes is a serious condition where your blood glucose level is too high. There are two main types, Type 1 and Type 2. Around 90% of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes and about 8% of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes. There is also approximately 2% of people who have rarer types of diabetes.

What causes diabetes?

What all types of diabetes have in common is that it causes people to have too much glucose (sugar) in their blood. But we all need some glucose. It’s what gives us our energy. We get glucose when our bodies break down the carbohydrates that we eat or drink. And that glucose is released into our blood.

We also need a hormone called insulin. It’s made by our pancreas, and it’s insulin that allows the glucose in our blood to enter our cells and fuel our bodies.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is a serious, lifelong condition where your blood glucose level is too high because your body can't make a hormone called insulin. Unlike Type 2, this type doesn’t have anything to do with diet or lifestyle, and it is still unknown as to what exactly causes it.

When you have Type 1 diabetes, your body attacks the cells in your pancreas that make insulin, so you can't produce any insulin at all. We all need insulin to live and has an essential job that allows the glucose in our blood to enter our cells and fuel our bodies.

When you have Type 1 diabetes, your body still breaks down the carbohydrate from food and drink and turns it into glucose (sugar). But when the glucose enters your bloodstream, there's no insulin to allow it into your body's cells. More and more glucose then builds up in your bloodstream.

Signs and symptoms:

So, what does this mean? Well, before diagnosis, your body tries to get rid of the glucose through your kidneys, and that makes you pee a lot. This is one of the main symptom of diabetes.

These symptoms tend to come on quickly – over just a few days or weeks. Anyone who has these symptoms should see a doctor as soon as possible.

Managing Type 1 diabetes

If you’ve got Type 1 diabetes, you get insulin into your body by injecting it, or using an insulin pump, which delivers a constant supply into you.

You’ll need to check your blood glucose levels are not too low or too high by using a blood glucose testing device several times a day. When you start taking insulin, you’ll begin to feel better and your blood glucose levels will go down. This is important because over a long period of time, high glucose levels in your blood can seriously damage you heart, your eyes, your feet and your kidneys. These are known as the complications of diabetes.

But with the right treatment and care, the long-term effects of diabetes and high glucose levels can be managed.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a serious condition where the insulin your pancreas makes can’t work properly, or your pancreas can’t make enough insulin.

When you have Type 2 diabetes, your body still breaks down carbohydrate from your food and drink and turns it into glucose. The pancreas responds to this by releasing insulin, but because this insulin can’t work properly, blood glucose (sugar) levels keep rising, so more insulin is released. For some people with Type 2 diabetes this can eventually tire the pancreas out, meaning their body makes less and less insulin. This causes even higher blood sugar levels.

Signs and symptoms:

What does this all mean? Well, as your body can’t get enough glucose into your cells, a common symptom is feeling very tired as well as other symptoms to look out for. 

A lot of people don’t get any symptoms, or they don’t notice them. This can mean that some people live with Type 2 diabetes for up to 10 years before being diagnosed.

And, over a long period of time, high sugar levels in your blood can seriously damage your heart, your eyes, your feet and your kidneys.

With the right treatment and care, the effects of diabetes and high blood sugar levels can potentially be reversed and managed.

Managing Type 2 diabetes:

There are different ways of treating Type 2 diabetes. Some people can manage it by healthier eating, being more active and losing weight. Eventually most people will need medication to bring their blood glucose down to a safe level.

Whatever the treatment, everyone with Type 2 diabetes needs to learn how to live with it.

Remission in Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes can be lifelong and get worse over time for many, but it doesn’t have to be like this for everyone.

Remission in people with Type 2 diabetes means that your blood sugar levels go back to normal and you don’t need to take diabetes medication anymore. This can be life-changing for those who can go into remission, but it's not possible for everyone.

Dealing with diabetes can be daunting, whether you're newly diagnosed, an old hand, or even if it's someone you know who has the condition. Having someone to talk to can make all the difference and understanding that there is support for you to manage it.

References:

https://www.diabetes.org.uk/

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