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What is diabetes?

Do you experience intense thirst and hunger, frequent urination, weight gain or sudden weight loss? Are you tired?

Definition

Diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar, or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. Hyperglycaemia, or raised blood sugar, is a common effect of uncontrolled diabetes that can seriously damage the body's nerves and blood vessels over time 2.

Successful treatment makes all the difference to long-term health and achieving balance.  Diabetes treatment can be the key to living with both Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes. The development of Type 1 Diabetes tends to be sudden and dramatic compared to the often mild or total lack of symptoms in people with Type 2 Diabetes, making the latter difficult to detect 3.

Types of Diabetes

 There are 3 main types of Diabetes:

Type 1: The body does not produce insulin and those with Type 1 Diabetes will need insulin injections for the rest of their lives 1,5.
Type 2: The body either does not produce enough insulin for proper function, or the cells in the body do not react to insulin (insulin resistance). Approximately 90% of all Diabetes cases worldwide are Type 2 1,6.
Gestational: When hyperglycemia (high blood glucose levels) develops during pregnancy, usually in the third trimester and typically disappears after the baby is born 8.

Symptoms

Symptoms of diabetes vary in individuals, many of whom experience no signs. Some common symptoms include 3:

  • Frequent urination.
  • Excessive thirst.
  • Increased hunger.
  • Weight loss.
  • Tiredness.
  • Lack of interest and concentration.
  • A tingling sensation or numbness in the hands or feet.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Frequent infections.
  • Slow-healing wounds.
  • Vomiting and stomach pain (often mistaken as the flu). 

Risk factors

Having a family member with Type 1 Diabetes slightly increases the risk of developing the condition. Environmental factors and exposure to some viral infections have also been linked to Type 1 Diabetes 3.

Risk factors associated with Type 2 Diabetes include 3:

  • Family history of diabetes.
  • Being overweight.
  • Unhealthy diet.
  • Physical inactivity.
  • Increasing age.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Ethnicity.
  • Impaired glucose tolerance (IGT).
  • History of gestational diabetes.
  • Poor nutrition during pregnancy.

Complications

The longer you have Diabetes and the less controlled your blood sugar, the higher the risk of long-term, disabling, or even life-threatening complications that develop over time. These may include 1,4:

Cardiovascular disease - Diabetes unchecked can lead to heart disease or stroke.
Nerve damage (neuropathy) - This can cause tingling, numbness, burning, or pain that may begin at the tips of the extremities and gradually spread. Left untreated, may lose all sense of feeling in the affected limbs. 
Kidney damage (nephropathy) - Severe damage can lead to kidney failure or irreversible end-stage kidney disease, which may require dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Eye damage (retinopathy) - Diabetes can damage the blood vessels of the retina, potentially leading to blindness.
Foot damage - Nerve damage and poor blood circulation to the feet increases the risk of foot complications. Left untreated may develop serious infections/ulcers, ultimately lead to gangrene/amputation.

References

1. Medical News Today http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/info/diabetes

2. Diabetes Fact Sheet Reviewed June 2016, The World Health Organization http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs312/en/

3. Signs and symptoms of Diabetes, International Diabetes Federation (IDF) http://www.idf.org/signs-and-symptoms-diabetes

4. Diseases and conditions: Diabetes, Mayo Clinic http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/basics/complications/con-20033091

5. Type 1 Diabetes, American Diabetes Association http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/type-1/?loc=db-slabnav

6. What is Type 2 Diabetes, Diabetes Research Institute Foundation http://www.diabetesresearch.org/what-is-type-two-diabetes 7. http://www.diabetes.co.uk/gestational-diabetes.html