Everything you need to know about diabetes

Diabetes

Find out more about this common condition.

14/11/2019


Alex Hesketh

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Today is World Diabetes Day, a day which aims to raise awareness of diabetes and the importance of taking actions to prevent type 2 diabetes. In this article we explain what diabetes is, the symptoms associated with diabetes, possible causes, treatments and how to get tested. Let’s get started with what diabetes is.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus is a condition that causes high blood sugar, also known as blood glucose. Blood glucose is your main source of energy and comes from the food you eat. A hormone called insulin which is produced by the pancreas then moves the blood glucose from your blood into your cells to be stored or used for energy. n a person with diabetes, the body does not produce enough insulin to move the blood glucose from the blood into the cells or cannot use the insulin it does produce effectively.

There a few different kinds of diabetes including:

Type 1 – is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks and destroys cells in the pancreas, where insulin is made.

Type 2 – is a result of the body becoming resilient to insulin and sugar builds up in your blood.

Prediabetes – occurs when blood sugar is higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes.

Gestational diabetes – happens during pregnancy as the placenta produces insulin-blocking hormones consequently causing high blood sugar.

Each type of diabetes has different symptoms, causes and treatments. Let’s look at each one individually.

Symptoms

Symptoms associated with type 1 diabetes can include:

  • extreme hunger
  • increased thirst
  • unintentional weight loss
  • frequent urination
  • blurry vision
  • tiredness

Symptoms associated with type 2 diabetes can include:

  • increased hunger
  • increased thirst
  • increased urination
  • blurry vision
  • tiredness
  • sores that are slow to heal

Gestational diabetes

It is not unusual for pregnant women who have gestational diabetes to have none or limited symptoms. However, between the 24th and 28th weeks of gestation women have a routine blood sugar test or oral glucose tolerance test that usually detects whether they have gestational diabetes.

Causes

Type 1 diabetes

As type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, it is unclear to what causes it. However, in some cases genes can play a part and it is also possible that a virus sets off the immune system attack.

Type 2 diabetes

Several factors can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes including being overweight or obese. When you carry extra weight, especially in your belly, it makes your cells more resistant to the effects of insulin on your blood sugar.

This type can also run in families. Genes can be shared by family members that make them more likely to get type 2 diabetes and to be overweight.

Prediabetes

Pre-diabetes is often a disease of lifestyle and can develop for many reasons. There’s nothing you can do about your gender or your genetics, but there are several risk factors which you can potentially do something about.

  • Being overweight or obese - this is a big risk factor and almost all people with pre-diabetes are a bit too heavy.
  • Not being active - the more physical activity you do, the more likely you will keep diabetes at bay.
  • Having other medical conditions such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

Gestational diabetes

During pregnancy women experience many hormonal changes which can result in gestational diabetes. The placenta produces hormones that make a woman’s cells less sensitive to the effects of insulin which can cause high blood sugar. Women who are overweight when they fall pregnant or who gain a lot of weight during their pregnancy are more likely to develop gestational diabetes.

Treatments

As each type of diabetes has different symptoms doctors treat each one with a range of medications. Some of these medications are taken orally or by injection.

Type 1 diabetes

Doctors often treat type 1 diabetes with insulin injections. The injections replace the hormone that the body can’t produce.

There are 4 types of insulin that are mostly commonly used. Each kind differs in how quickly they start to work and how long their effects last:

  • Rapid-acting insulin starts to work within 15 minutes and its effects last for 3 to 4 hours.
  • Short-acting insulin starts to work within 30 minutes and lasts 6 to 8 hours.
  • Intermediate-acting insulin starts to work within 1 to 2 hours and lasts 12 to 18 hours.
  • Long-acting insulin starts to work a few hours after the injection and lasts 24 hours or longer.

Type 2 diabetes

As type 2 diabetes is often a result of being overweight or obese, diet and exercise can help some people manage the condition. However, if lifestyle changes do not improve blood sugar levels, medication will be prescribed.

The following drugs can help to lower blood sugar in a variety of ways:

Types of drug

How they work

Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors

Slow your body’s breakdown of sugars and starchy foods

Biguanides

Reduce the amount of glucose your liver makes

DPP-4 inhibitors

Improve your blood sugar without making it drop too low

Glucagon-like peptides

Change the way your body produces insulin

Meglitinides

Stimulate your pancreas to release more insulin

SGLT2 inhibitors

Release more glucose into the urine

Sulfonylureas

Stimulate your pancreas to release more insulin

Thiazolidinediones

Help insulin work better

 

If needed, more than one of these drugs may be prescribed and depending on the circumstances some people do need to take insulin with type 2 diabetes.

Prediabetes

If you have already been diagnosed with prediabetes, you have taken the first step – and that’s monitoring your blood sugar levels. Often people do not find out they have diabetes until it is too late. With that said, prediabetes can be reversed with several lifestyle adjustments such as eating a healthy well-balanced diet, increasing your levels of physical activity, losing weight and stopping smoking if you do so already.

Gestational diabetes

If gestational diabetes develops during pregnancy, blood sugar levels need to be monitored serval times a day. If the tests come back higher than normal, a doctor will recommend making dietary changes or performing low intensity exercise to bring it down. Although diet and exercise can help in some cases, the Mayo Clinic state about 10 to 20 percent of women who develop gestational diabetes require insulin to lower their blood sugar (1).

Diagnosis

To diagnose type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes and prediabetes a blood test is used. There are two types of blood tests including:

  • The fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test which measures blood sugar after you’ve fasted for 8 hours.
  • The HbA1C blood test which identifies blood sugar levels over the previous 8-10 weeks

In order to check whether you have developed gestational diabetes during pregnancy your doctor will test your blood sugar levels between the 24th and 28th weeks of your pregnancy.

If you believe you are at risk of developing diabetes you can test your blood sugar levels with our simple finger-prick, Diabetes (HbA1C) blood test. It measures the amount of sugar that is attached to the haemoglobin in red blood cells, with results interpreted from a qualified doctor and advice to improve blood sugar levels.

In aid of World Diabetes Day, we have our Diabetes (HbA1C) blood test down to just £30, from £39.


References

  1. Mayo Clinic (2017). Gestational diabetes - Diagnosis and treatment - Mayo Clinic. [online] Mayoclinic.org. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gestational-diabetes/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20355345 [Accessed 12 Nov. 2019].

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