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What is Diabetes?


Diabetes is the name given to a group of different conditions in which there is too much glucose in the blood.

Glucose is the main source of energy for the body and comes from carbohydrate foods we eat. Carbohydrate foods include bread, pasta, rice, cereals, fruits, starchy vegetables, milk and yoghurt. The body breaks carbohydrate foods down to glucose which then enters the blood stream. For glucose to enter the cells to be used for energy, a hormone called insulin must be available.

Insulin is produced by special cells called beta cells which are found in the pancreas.

Diabetes occurs when the body either does not make insulin or the insulin that is produced by the pancreas is not working properly. This leads to increased blood glucose levels which can lead to the development of diabetes.

The 3 main types of diabetes are: type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes and Gestational diabetes.

The difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes

type 1

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the beta cells in the pancreas are destroyed and can no longer produce insulin to transport the glucose from the blood into the cells of the body for energy. This causes the blood glucose levels to rise dramatically. People who develop type 1 diabetes will usually seek medical advice quickly as they can become seriously ill from the onset of this condition. It is not caused by lifestyle factors and cannot be prevented.

Type 1 diabetes accounts for 10–15% of all cases of diagnosed diabetes.

type 2

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the beta cells in the pancreas still make insulin, but insulin production can be reduced over time (insulin deficiency) and the insulin produced is not working as effectively as it should (insulin resistance). The effect is a rise in blood glucose levels. People with Type 2 diabetes often do not seek medical advice as the symptoms if present develop slowly, may not be obvious and are often diagnosed as a consequence of other medical conditions.

Type 2 diabetes results from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Genetic factors include ethnic background and family history. Risk can be increased by lifestyle factors such as high blood pressure,being overweight, not exercising, poor dietary choices, and smoking.

The management of diabetes

How is diabetes managed?

In type 1 and type 2 diabetes, the aim of diabetes treatment is to get your blood glucose levels as close to target as possible.

For people with type 1 diabetes: insulin injections every day is necessary. Adopting a healthy lifestyle is also important.

For people with type 2 diabetes healthy eating and regular physical activity is important. Diabetes is a progressive condition, over time many people with type 2 diabetes will need to commence oral medication and insulin to stay healthy and prevent complications.

Further information

Click here to view our Information Sheets available for download.