Diabetes is the medical name for when your glucose (sugar) levels are too high in your blood because your body can’t use it properly.
An estimated 3.2 million people in the UK have diabetes and around 630,000 of them don’t even know they have the condition. It’s very important to get diagnosed and treated because it’s a progressive condition which can lead to complications such as blindness, nerve damage, kidney failure and limb amputation, as well as an increased risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
There are two types of diabetes:
- Type 1 diabetes is where your body stops producing insulin because your immune system is attacking the cells which produce it. Type 1 usually starts before the age of 40 and accounts for around one in 10 cases of diabetes. It’s a lifelong condition that needs to be treated with injections of artificial insulin several times a day, although making healthy lifestyle choices can also help.
- Type 2 diabetes is where your body either doesn’t produce enough insulin or your body’s cells don’t react to insulin. It accounts for 90 per cent of all cases of diabetes. It can often be managed with diet and lifestyle changes, but it can get worse over time and sometimes medication is needed too.
Symptoms of diabetes include feeling excessively thirsty, passing urine frequently (particularly at night), a dry mouth, blurred vision, feeling tired and fatigued, and weight/muscle loss. Experts say type 1 diabetes can develop rapidly, but type 2 is much more gradual and you can have it for years as the symptoms are easy to mistake for something else.
If you have any concerns, please speak to your GP.
There are particular risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes which are handy to know about so that if you have been diagnosed with diabetes, or you are looking to reduce your chances of developing it you know which areas to work on. These include:
- Being overweight: Type 2 diabetes is very strongly associated with being overweight or obese, so losing weight by eating a healthy diet and making sure you get enough exercise, can greatly reduce your chances of developing it.
- Having a large waist: If your waist measures over 80 cm (31.5 inches) if you’re a woman and 94cm (37 inches) if you’re a man or 89 cm (35 inches) for South Asian men, you’re at higher risk of diabetes. Losing inches can reduce your risk.
- Other medical conditions: These include having high blood pressure, having suffered a stroke or heart attack, having polycystic ovarian syndrome, a comon condition that affects how women’s ovaries work, and taking medications for certain mental illnesses.
The following are factors that you can’t change but could put you at a higher risk of developing diabetes and you need to be aware of.
- Being older: Your risk of diabetes increases with age after 40 ( the figure is 25 for South Asians).
- Family history: If your mother, father, brother or sister has diabetes then you are at higher risk too.
- Ethnic Group: South Asians are six times more likely to get diabetes, and Afro Caribbeans and Black Africans three times more at risk of diabetes than white caucasions.
If you think you’re at risk of developing diabetes or have experienced some of the symptoms or risk factors mentioned above see your GP for a check up and ask for a blood test. If you test positive for diabetes your health professional can advise you on treatment options to lower your blood glucose levels, including diet and lifestyle changes and medication including the drug metformin and if necessary insulin injections.
Even if your result is negative for diabetes, it’s a good idea to take healthy steps in your diet and lifestyle if you fall into one of the at risk groups. For example watch your weight, follow a healthy diet and do more exercise. Just exercising regularly and reducing your weight by 5 per cent could reduce your risk of getting diabetes by more than 50 per cent.