When the food we eat is digested, most of it becomes glucose (sugar), which the body uses for energy. In order for this to happen, the glucose must leave the blood and enter the body cells. The hormone that helps glucose enter the cells is called insulin. It is produced by an organ called the pancreas. In Diabetes, the pancreas either doesn’t produce insulin, or the body is unable to use the insulin properly. This causes glucose to build up in the blood instead of entering the cells, a process called hyperglycaemia.
There are two types of Diabetes: type I and type II Diabetes.
- TYPE I (Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus- IDDM) can occur at any age but most commonly develops before the age of 30. It accounts for 10 to 15% of Diabetes cases. In Type I patients, the pancreas produces little or no insulin.
TYPE II (Non-Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus) is usually diagnosed in people over 30 years, although it can occur in children and teenagers. In Type II patients, the pancreas produces insulin but the body does not use it properly. This is called insulin resistance.
There is a third type of Diabetes called gestational Diabetes, which only occurs during pregnancy. See the Gestational Diabetes topic for more information.
Diabetes is a condition requiring life-long management. There is no cure, but symptoms can be controlled with careful attention to diet and medications. Poorly controlled Diabetes may lead to serious complications. Complications of Diabetes include:
- Diabetic retinopathy (a progressive loss of vision that can lead to blindness).
- Diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage). This causes loss of sensation in the lower limbs and may lead to foot ulcers, joint problems and infections. Diabetes causes changes to the physiology of the foot such as decreased sensation (feeling) which can result in injuries to the foot going unoticed, less effective wound healing and changes to the foot. Limb amputations are sometimes necessary as a result.
- Diabetic nephropathy (kidney disease).
- Heart disease.
At present, Type I Diabetes cannot be prevented, although with careful management the symptoms can be controlled. Researchers are hoping to develop methods to prevent Type I Diabetes in the near future.
Type II Diabetes tends to be linked to several risk factors. Those at risk of developing Type II Diabetes include:
- People over 50 with either hypertension (high blood pressure), obesity or a close relative with Diabetes.
- Anyone who is over 65.
- Anyone with a history of heart disease.
- Anyone who has had Gestational Diabetes.
- Aborigines, Torres Strait Islanders, Pacific Islanders, people from the Indian Subcontinent or people with Chinese backgrounds.
People who fall into one or more of these risk groups should consult their Doctor for advice on preventing Type II Diabetes. Exercise, weight management and a healthy diet can all help prevent Type II Diabetes.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms include feeling thirsty all the time, urinating more frequently, blurred vision, tiredness, numbness and tingling in the feet or legs and recurrent infections.
Diabetes is a serious condition requiring life long management, which should address the following issues:
- Regular screening for complications. Foot care, eyes, kidney health and blood sugar control should all be checked.
- Education regarding ideal blood sugar levels and use of blood sugar measuring devices.
- Reducing risk factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption and obesity.
- A detailed, individual diet plan.
- A suitable exercise programme.
- Education about diabetes medications.
- Education about concurrent illnesses such as hypertension, high cholesterol, kidney disease and heart disease.