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Diabetes is a common lifelong condition. This occurs when the amount of glucose in the blood is too high. This is a result of the pancreas not producing any insulin or not enough of it to help glucose enter the blood cells. Alternatively, the insulin may be produced but it does not work properly. This is known as insulin resistance.

In 2010 there were approximately 3.1 million people aged sixteen or over with diabetes, (both diagnosed and undiagnosed) in England. By 2030 this figure is expected to rise to 4.6 million, with 90 percent of those affected having type two diabetes. It is estimated that approximately 850,000 people in England have diabetes but are undiagnosed.

Causes of Diabetes

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is caused by lack of insulin due to the destruction of insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas.  Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. The body’s immune system attacks and destroys the beta cells. Normally the immune system protects the body from infection. It does this by destroying bacteria, viruses and other foreign substance which are potentially harmful. However, in an autoimmune disease the immune system attacks the body’s own cells.

In type 1 diabetes the beta cell destruction can occur over several years, however the symptoms can develop over a short period of time. Type 1 diabetes is also known as insulin dependent diabetes. It is seen mainly from a young age and can affect children and young adults.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes and in fact, 90% of adults with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. It can be a combination of factors such as insulin resistance. Type 2 diabetes develops when the body can no longer produce enough insulin alternatively the insulin produced is not used effectively.  

Symptoms of type 2 diabetes may develop gradually and some people with type 2 diabetes are undiagnosed for years. Type 2 diabetes develops most often in middle aged and older people who are overweight or obese. However, type 2 diabetes is becoming increasingly common in children and adolescents who are overweight and obese.

Gestational Diabetes

This occurs during pregnancy. Some women have such high levels of blood glucose that their body is unable to produce enough insulin to absorb it. It affects up to 18 percent of women during pregnancy.

Pregnancy can also make existing type 1 diabetes worse. Gestational diabetes can increase the risk of health problems developing in an unborn baby, therefore it is very important that blood glucose levels are kept under control. Gestational diabetes usually develops during the second trimester of pregnancy and once the baby is born it disappears.

Women who have gestational diabetes during pregnancy are at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life, in fact 30%, compared to the 10% risk for the general population.

Signs and symptoms

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased frequency of urination, especially at night
  • Tiredness
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Regular occurrence of thrush
  • Itching around genital area
  • Blurred vision

In type 1 diabetes the signs and symptoms develop very quickly, typically within a few weeks. The symptoms are relieved once diabetes is under control with medication. In type 2 diabetes the signs and symptoms may not be so obvious as the condition develops over a number of years.

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