One in 14 people in the UK live with diabetes – and the sheer scale of the problem means most of us will know someone with the disease, or could suffer from it ourselves.
Insulin was discovered just over a century ago, and in that time we have come a long way in our understanding of the condition, which causes blood sugar levels to become too high.
What is diabetes?
There are two main types of diabetes –
Type 1 – where a person’s own immune system destroys the cells that produce insulin.
Type 2 – where the body does not produce enough insulin, or where cells do not react to insulin.
According to the NHS type 2 is far more common in the UK and accounts for around 90 per cent of diabetes cases among adults.
A large number of people will have pre-diabetes, which means their blood sugar levels are above the normal range, putting them at increased risk of developing diabetes.
Early diagnosis is vital – as diabetes can lead to a number of serious conditions and even amputations if left untreated.
There are symptoms which can act as red flags for diabetes. If you are suffering from these you should make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
- Feeling very thirsty all the time .
- Increased urination – particularly at night.
- Unintended weight loss.
- Itching around the genitals or frequent episodes of thrush.
- Slow healing of cuts and wounds.
- Blurred vision.
Progression of the condition
While type 1 diabetes can develop quickly – even over days – type 2 can take longer to develop and many people have it for years before it is diagnosed. There are no lifestyle choices to lower the risk of type 1 – but there are things we can do to prevent type 2 from developing, and even to put it into remission.
While we have no control over some of the risk factors – such as being over 40, having a close relative with the condition, or being of Asian, African-Caribbean or black African origin – we can certainly tackle the risk factor of being overweight or obese. It’s never too early to take action – and healthy eating and exercise are key to this.
Anyone who is diagnosed with diabetes will need to eat a healthy diet, lose weight if necessary and exercise if they are able to.
People diagnosed with type 1 diabetes will also need to have insulin injections for the rest of their lives.
Once type 2 diabetes has developed most people will need medication to keep blood sugar levels as normal as possible. They will also need to exercise and adjust their diet.
The way ahead
One of the most exciting developments is the use of a low calorie diet to put type 2 diabetes into remission.
The ground-breaking study, funded by Diabetes UK, is called DiRECT (Diabetes Remission Clinical Trial). It is hoped it could completely change the way type 2 diabetes is treated in the future – and because of the study’s success so far the NHS has begun to offer low calorie programmes in England and Scotland.
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