What is diabetes?

Type1, Type 2, gestational

Signs and symptoms




Treatment research

Further support and information


What is diabetes?

During digestion most foods are converted into a sugar called glucose. Glucose is a simple sugar that is the main fuel source for the body. Once food has been converted into glucose, it moves into the bloodstream where it is circulated around the body. It then passes into the body’s cells to be used as energy.

For glucose to pass from the bloodstream into the cells, insulin is required. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas – a large gland that sits behind the stomach. Specialised cells in the pancreas, called beta cells, automatically produce the correct amounts of insulin to move the glucose into the cells. Insulin production rises and falls throughout the day in response to the body’s needs.

However, in people with diabetes there is a problem with the production of insulin or with the body’s ability to use the insulin.

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder, which means a problem with the process by which food is digested and used as energy by the body. It is a chronic (long-term) condition characterised by high levels of glucose in the blood (hyperglycaemia). If not treated it can cause long-term complications such as coronary heart disease, kidney damage, stroke, circulatory problems and damaged vision.

Type1, Type 2, gestational

There are three main types of diabetes – Type 1, Type 2 and gestational – typically associated with different circumstances.

Type 1 diabetes:

In Type 1 diabetes the pancreas produces little or no insulin. It has also been referred to as “juvenile onset diabetes” or “insulin dependent diabetes mellitus” (IDDM). While it is usually diagnosed between the ages of 7 – 12 years, it can occur at any age. Approximately 10% of all people with diabetes have Type 1. Type 1 diabetes is thought to occur as the result of an autoimmune reaction. During an autoimmune reaction the body’s immune system attacks the body’s own healthy cells and tissues. In Type 1 diabetes, it is thought that the body attacks and destroys the specialised insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, making them incapable of producing insulin. It is not known what causes this autoimmune reaction to occur, but it is believed that certain viruses or environmental factors, as well as genetic factors are involved. There is also some evidence to suggest that dietary factors and stress play a part in the development of the condition.

Type 2 diabetes:

In Type 2 diabetes the pancreas still produces insulin, however it may not produce enough insulin to meet the body’s needs. There is also a problem with the ability of the cells in the body to utilise the insulin (insulin resistance) – particularly the cells in the liver, fat and muscles. Type 2 diabetes has also been referred to as “adult onset diabetes” or “non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus” (NIDDM). People of any age can develop it and some people with Type 2 diabetes require insulin injections. It is the most common form of diabetes affecting approximately 90% of all people with diabetes. There is a strong hereditary component to Type 2 diabetes. It is also related very strongly to obesity – the greater the degree of obesity, the greater the risk of developing the condition. Age is also an important factor, with the condition most commonly occurring after the age of 40 years. It is thought that as people age, beta cells become less efficient and the cells in the body become less able to use the insulin made by the pancreas.

Gestational diabetes:

This is an uncommon form of diabetes that can occur during pregnancy. During the course of pregnancy approximately 2 – 4% of women will develop gestational diabetes, however the condition usually disappears after the pregnancy. It can manifest as either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. Women who have had gestational diabetes are at greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life. Advertisements


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