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Diabetes: What You Need to Know

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Do you know someone with diabetes? Chances are you will. According to 2016-2017 figures from Diabetes UK – the ‘leading UK charity for people affected by diabetes’ – almost 3.7 million people in the UK have diabetes and this is on the increase.

With such a continuing rise in diagnoses, diabetes is something we should strive to understand more about. Knowing what the different types of diabetes are, and being aware of the early symptoms and signs, could benefit us all at some point in our lives. Plus, learning how to manage or control the symptoms once diagnosed could bring about a better quality of life for diabetics who needs support.

So let’s take a look at what you need to know about diabetes.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition where the amount of glucose in your blood is too high because the body cannot use it properly. This can be because:

  1. your pancreas doesn’t produce any insulin

  2. or it doesn’t produce enough insulin to help glucose enter your body’s cells

  3. or the insulin that is produced does not work properly (ie ‘insulin resistance).

Why is insulin so important?

Insulin is a hormone which is produced by the pancreas and allows glucose to enter the body’s cells. This glucose is used as fuel (so we have enough energy to work, play and generally live our lives). It is vital for life. If you have diabetes, your body cannot make proper use of this glucose (ie turn it into fuel) so it builds up in the blood instead – which is why this serious and chronic disease needs close monitoring and management.

What are the Different Types of Diabetes?

Type 1 Diabetes is unpreventable and accounts for about 10 per cent of all adults with diabetes. Treated with daily insulin doses – taken either by injections or via an insulin pump – it can develop at any age (but usually before the age of 40) and is the most common type of diabetes found in childhood. People with Type 1 diabetes are also encouraged to follow a healthy diet and take regular physical activity alongside their medication.

Type 2 Diabetes is usually preventable and generally appears in people over the age of 40 (and often from the age of 25). Sadly, it is a progressive condition which is becoming more common in children, adolescents and young people of all ethnicities, and is associated with being overweight.

It accounts for between 85 and 95 per cent of all people with diabetes. On a brighter note, however, Type 2 diabetes can be reversed, controlled and managed slightly easier than Type 1 diabetes, providing a healthy diet and active lifestyle are adopted.

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Gestational Diabetes - this type only affects pregnant women (typically between the second and third trimester) and usually disappears once the pregnancy is over. Again, it stems from insulin resistance and the body being unable to use the glucose as it would ordinarily. And whilst gestational diabetes isn’t a long-term condition, it is affecting more and more women year on year, and can increase the chances of being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes when older.

So now we know what diabetes is and the different types (by the way if you’d like to learn about the different types of diabetes in more detail, visit the Diabetes UK website) it’s probably a good time to look at the early signs and symptoms to watch out for.

Early Symptoms of Diabetes

Here’s a list of some of the early symptoms of diabetes to watch out for but please be aware that you should always seek medical advice, rather than self-diagnose. Visit your GP if you’re displaying several of these symptoms.

  • Going to the toilet a lot, especially at night.

  • Increased thirst.

  • Feeling more tired than usual.

  • Losing weight without trying.

  • Genital itching or thrush.

  • Cuts and wounds taking longer to heal.

  • Blurred vision.

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Preventing Diabetes and Living with a Diabetes Diagnosis

Whether you’re trying to prevent diabetes or you’re living your life with a diabetes diagnosis, your lifestyle plays an important role.

Eating a rich, balanced diet (find out what the NHS encourage here) and losing weight (or maintaining a healthy weight) are excellent starting points.

Follow this up by reducing the amount of alcohol you drink, quit smoking, and increase your daily physical activity (10,000 steps a day can make a huge difference to your fitness levels and all-round wellbeing) and your risk of complications from diabetes can be significantly reduced.

Finding the right professional support and advice can also have a huge impact on the way you look at your diabetes, manage its symptoms, and live your life as freely as possible.

Diabetes Support:

You will find a wealth of valuable information online (from the NHS and Diabetes UK, in particular) as well as opportunities to join online forums where you can connect with other diabetic people and share your concerns, ideas and support each other.

Offline (in the ‘real world’), there are a number of charities and organisations who set up local meetings too, which give you the chance to meet people from your local community who may be facing the same challenges as you or your loved ones. Make the most of these different support channels and you’ll never have to feel alone.

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