Diabetes is an extremely common condition, affecting over 3 million people in the UK alone. It is characterised by your body's inability to either produce insulin (which controls the uptake of glucose from your bloodstream) or respond effectively to it. This means that diabetics are unable to regulate their blood sugar levels, something which - if untreated - can lead to episodes of hyperglycaemia and in extreme cases, diabetic coma.
What are the symptoms of diabetes?
There are two distinctive types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Type 1 is less common (only 10% of diabetics suffer from type 1) and is caused by the pancreas failing to produce enough insulin. Type 2 is the more common form of diabetes and is characterised by insulin resistance - in which the body fails to respond effectively to any insulin produced. Both types of diabetes cause raised levels of glucose in the blood, leading to hyperglycaemia, which in some cases causes ketoacidosis (where the body begins to break down fats for energy because it cannot take up glucose from the blood), which is a medical emergency.
The main symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes are largely similar:
- feeling very thirsty
- urinating frequently, particularly at night
- weight loss
Symptoms can also include:
- itchiness around the penis or vagina
- regular bouts of thrush
- blurred vision
- skin infections
- erectile dysfunction
- poor healing
In more severe cases, symptoms can include vomiting, abdominal pain and heavy breathing, which may indicate that you require hospitalisation.
It is important to note, however, that many people with the early stages of type 2 diabetes may not have any symptoms at all.
How do I know which type of diabetes I have?
The symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes are usually very similar, but there are some general differences between the two.
Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in childhood, and is caused by your immune system incorrectly destroying your insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. It is not associated with being overweight or unhealthy. Type 1 diabetes also tends to develop more quickly than type 2. This means that you may have type 1 diabetes if:
- you are suffering from the above symptoms
- your symptoms have come on very quickly
- you have close family members with type 1 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is normally diagnosed later in life and usually affects people over the age of 40 (although it is increasingly a problem amongst younger people, especially those of South Asian descent). It is caused by your body becoming insulin-resistant. This is often as a result of an unhealthy lifestyle, and therefore type 2 is often associated with people who are overweight. You may have type 2 diabetes if:
- you are suffering from the above symptoms
- your symptoms may have come on slowly, over a period of weeks
- you have close family members with type 2 diabetes
- you are over the age of 40
- you are of Middle Eastern, South Asian or African-Caribbean descent (including people under 40)
- you are overweight, with a large waist size
How is diabetes diagnosed?
If you are suffering from the above symptoms and suspect that you might have diabetes you should visit your GP. They will typically ask about your symptoms and then may ask for blood and urine tests.
In carrying out a urine test, your doctor will be looking for glucose. Glucose is not normally present in urine, but can get into the urine of diabetics. If there is glucose in your urine, you will then have a blood test, in which the levels of glucose in your blood will be measured. In some cases, an oral glucose tolerance test might also be needed, in which you drink a glucose-based drink and then have your blood sugar levels measured to see how your body is responding to it.
Diabetes finger-prick blood tests are also available from LloydsPharmacy stores.
What should I do if I am diagnosed with diabetes?
The most important thing to bear in mind is that diabetes is very common and (although, in most cases, not curable) very treatable. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, you should work with your doctor to establish a plan of action for dealing with your condition. Depending on the nature of your diabetes, you will probably need to alter your lifestyle and diet. Depending on the type and severity, you may need to take medicines such as insulin injections or, for type 2 diabetes, Metformin tablets.
Eating well, exercising and generally taking care of yourself are all good ways to help keep your diabetes under control. Ultimately, this is a condition that can be managed as long as you learn to adapt to your condition, work around it, and get into a routine of checking your blood sugar levels and keeping on top of your medicines.
For more information on diabetes causes and treatments, click here.