Diabetes affects approximately 3.5 million adults in the UK.
And it's thought that a further 549,000 people have the condition, but aren't aware of it. Type 2 Diabetes is far more common than Type 1 diabetes - about 90% of those with diabetes in the UK have Type 2 Diabetes.
What exactly is Diabetes?
Both Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes are chronic, lifelong conditions that affect the way your body regulates blood sugar, or glucose.
Type 1 Diabetes - your blood glucose level is too high because your body does not produce any insulin at all. Think of it as not having a key.
Type 2 Diabetes occurs because your body is unable to produce enough insulin, or because the cells in your body do not respond properly to insulin. Think of it as having a broken key.
What are the Symptoms of Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes?
Both Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes share many common symptoms. These include needing to urinate frequently, constantly feeling thirsty and drinking a lot, feeling very hungry, feeling very fatigued, blurry vision, and cuts or sores that don’t heal properly.
People with Type 1 Diabetes may also experience irritability and mood changes, and unexplained weight loss.
People with Type 2 Diabetes might also experience numbness and tingling in their hands or feet. Having Diabetes means you’re at much greater risk of developing foot problems. This is because the raised blood sugar can damage the sensation in your feet. It can also affect your circulation, which can mean blood can't flow around your body properly, especially to your feet.
This can cause problems with cuts and sores healing, and you might also get cramps and pain in your legs or feet. These are just some of the signs of a serious foot problem. Most foot problems can be prevented with good, regular foot care, and it's important to take care of your feet - because these problems if left untreated could lead to foot ulcers, infections and, at worst, amputations.
Here's a useful guide to checking the sensitivity in your feet: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/complications/feet/touch-the-toes
The symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes will typically develop quickly, often over the course of just a few weeks. Type 1 Diabetes (which was once known as Juvenile Diabetes) usually develops in childhood or adolescence. It is however possible to get Type 1 Diabetes later in life.
Many people with Type 2 Diabetes won’t show symptoms for many years. Then it's common for the symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes to develop gradually, and they can be vague at first. Some people with Type 2 Diabetes have no symptoms at all, and don’t discover their condition until complications develop.
Type 2 Diabetes develops mainly in people over the age of 40 years, but it's becoming more and more common in children and young people.
What causes Diabetes?
Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes might have names that sound similar, but they are different diseases, with unique causes.
Causes of Type 1 Diabetes:
Our immune system is responsible for fighting off foreign invaders, like harmful viruses and bacteria. With Type 1 Diabetes, the immune system mistakes the body’s own healthy cells for foreign invaders. It attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. After these beta cells are destroyed, the body is unable to produce insulin.
Causes of Type 2 Diabetes:
People with Type 2 Diabetes have insulin resistance. The body still produces insulin, but it’s unable to use it effectively. Your pancreas will try to compensate by producing more insulin. Because your body is unable to effectively use insulin, glucose will accumulate in your bloodstream.
Several lifestyle factors may contribute to a person becoming insulin resistant, including excess weight and inactivity. Of particular concern at present is our diet - a diet that's high in sugar and fat, and low in fibre is believed to increase a person's risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes. Other genetic and environmental factors may also contribute, for example it's believed that Diabetes is hereditary - if one of your parents for example has Diabetes, there may be a greater risk that you will develop it too.
Factors which can increase your risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes include:
Having a relative with type 2 diabetes;
Being of South Asian, African-Caribbean or Middle Eastern descent;
Being overweight or obese;
Having a waist measuring more than 31.5 inches (80 cm) if you are a woman or more than 37 inches (94 cm) if you are a man;
If you are a woman who experienced gestational diabetes during pregnancy.
How is Diabetes treated?
Diabetes can't be cured, but treatment aims to keep your blood glucose level as normal as possible, and to control your symptoms - to prevent health problems developing later in life.
Type 1 Diabetes can be treated successfully by administering insulin, either by an injection or pump, and by following a healthy, balanced diet and getting regular physical activity.
With Type 2 Diabetes the first steps that are taken are to adjust the person's diet, ensuring good weight control and increasing physical activity.
There's a common myth that if you have diabetes, you will have to eat special foods - this is untrue. Your diet however should be healthy - high in fibre, fruit and vegetables; and low in fat, salt and sugar.
Physical activity lowers your blood glucose level, so it is particularly important to exercise regularly if you have diabetes.
If the blood glucose level remains high despite these measures, then tablets to reduce the blood glucose level would usually be advised. There are various medicines that can reduce a person's blood glucose level. Different medication will be suitable for different people, and it is fairly common to need a combination of medicines to control your blood glucose level.
Self-monitoring of blood glucose is an important part of Diabetes management. It is important that the blood glucose levels being aimed for are as near normal as possible. These are 3.5-5.5mmol/l before meals, and less than 8mmol/l 2 hours after meals - although this can vary from person to person.
Home blood glucose testing gives an accurate picture of your blood glucose level at the time of the test. It involves pricking the side of your finger with a finger-pricking device, and putting a drop of blood on a testing strip. A Blood Glucose Meter will read the result automatically. Your diabetic nurse, or GP can advise about which meter and how often to test is best for you. Keeping a diary of your results will help you and your healthcare team work out whether your treatment needs to be adjusted.
If you are concerned that you are suffering from any of the symptoms mentioned or have diabetes discuss them with your pharmacist. Your pharmacist is also on hand to give advice on diet, lifestyle and blood glucose testing.