Understanding Diabetes

A diabetes diagnosis can be an incredibly stressful time, but gathering the right information on what the condition is, the risks involved and what to expect is key to managing it moving forward.

Diabetes occurs when blood sugar (glucose) levels in the body are too high. This condition can be categorised into several forms including Type 1, Type 2 and gestational diabetes—a type of diabetes that occurs in pregnant women. 

When the condition is not managed well, it can seriously impact an individual’s health. According to leading charity Diabetes UK, people with diabetes are twice as likely to suffer from cardiovascular problems such as heart disease and stroke compared to individuals without it. Other damaging conditions associated with diabetes include kidney disease and various eye diseases. In severe cases, high blood sugar levels can also damage nerves and muscles in the legs and feet, leading to amputation. 

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong condition. Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the beta cells in the pancreas and regulates blood sugar levels in the body. Insulin sends signals to the muscles, fat and liver cells to absorb glucose from food. 

Type 1 diabetes, however, destroys the beta cells in the pancreas so that the body can’t produce enough of this vital hormone. The body then uses protein reserves to fuel itself and unabsorbed sugar levels can climb dangerously high. Those with this form of diabetes must administer insulin daily; this is usually via an injection using an insulin pen. 

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes and accounts for 90 percent of all cases of diabetes in the UK. Slightly different to Type 1, Type 2 occurs because of either insulin resistance—where the body doesn’t use insulin in the way that it should—or when the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin to regulate glucose levels. Unlike Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 diabetes can be reversed. Eating a controlled diet with low carbohydrates and a good exercise regime may help towards reversing Type 2 diabetes. 

Gestational diabetes 

Unlike Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes only affects women who develop unusually high blood sugar levels during pregnancy. Diabetes.co.uk reports that it occurs in three to five percent of all pregnancies—that’s one in every 20 pregnancies. This type typically disappears once the baby is born, but those who do have it may be at risk of early labour, stillbirth and pre-eclampsia. They will also have a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in the future. Pregnant women will be given a blood sugar testing kit to monitor their blood sugar levels throughout their pregnancy. If blood sugar levels aren’t reduced enough through diet and exercise, medication may also be prescribed. There are rarely any symptoms associated with gestational diabetes and it is usually detected during routine screenings at around 24 to 28 weeks’ gestation.

Hyperglycaemia or Hypoglycaemia? 

No matter how carefully a person with diabetes tries to maintain normal blood sugar levels, it is almost inevitable that they will experience either hyperglycaemia or hypoglycaemia. Hyperglycaemia—the medical term used to refer to high blood sugar levels—can lead to life-threatening conditions and induce diabetic comas. Hypoglycaemia, on the other hand, refers to extremely low blood sugar levels. Symptoms for hypoglycaemia include delirium, sweating and nausea. 

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