Diabetes is a condition characterised by high levels of glucose (or sugar) in the blood. When a person has a high blood sugar level they are said to be hyperglycaemic.
Glucose is essential for providing the body with energy. The body converts many of the foods that we eat into glucose. A hormone called insulin is required to transfer glucose from the bloodstream to the body’s cells.
If you suspect or know you have diabetes it is important to speak with your doctor to seek testing and advice on how to best manage your diabetes.
Diabetes occurs when there is not enough insulin to help get the glucose out of the bloodstream and into the body’s cells.
All types of diabetes lead to high blood glucose levels. The most common are Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus and Gestational Diabetes Mellitus. Each diabetes type has a different cause. (please see “What are the types of diabetes”).
High blood glucose levels usually occur because:
The pancreas is a leaf-shaped gland located behind the stomach. It is responsible for the production of insulin, which is the hormone that helps regulate blood glucose levels.
After a meal, the blood glucose level rises, causing the pancreas to normally release insulin into the blood. In a healthy person, the insulin allows the body’s cells to absorb glucose so it can be used as energy. When there is enough insulin, the blood sugar levels stay in the normal range.
For people living with diabetes, there are two main reasons why the blood sugar levels are high. This is because either:
This results in glucose being unable to enter the cells and therefore we see increased blood glucose levels (sometimes known as hyperglycaemia).
Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus is caused by an autoimmune condition, where a person’s own immune system attacks the cells of the pancreas which produce insulin. This leads to very low levels of insulin. Its onset is often sudden and without warning. There is currently no way of preventing it and no cure. People living with Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus do not produce any insulin and need insulin treatment to survive. This insulin can be given either by multiple injections per day or via an insulin pump.
Type 1 Diabetes accounts for around 10% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes.
People living with Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus can lead a normal, long and healthy life with the right support of family, friends, medical team along with medications, insulin and new technology.
Another term for Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus is Juvenile Diabetes – however adults can also develop Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus.
Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus is caused by the inability of the pancreas to produce enough insulin and/or the body’s cells being resistant to the action of insulin. It is the most common type and accounts for around 85-90% of all diagnoses of diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is a condition that gradually progresses over time.
While there is no cure for the condition, it can be managed. People with Type 2 diabetes can lead normal, healthy and happy lives.
Lifestyle changes, such as exercising and improving your diet, are effective ways to treat Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. People with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus may also need medications to treat their condition depending on the severity of the condition. Along with lifestyle changes the medications may be a combination of tablets and/or injections.
MODY is caused by a single abnormal gene. It accounts for approximately 1-2% of all diabetes diagnoses and is caused by a genetic mutation that is often passed down in families.It is a rare form of diabetes that is different to Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.
People with MODY are often diagnosed before the age of 25.
The treatment is often tablets or sometimes a combination of tablets and insulin injections.
Secondary diabetes occurs when the pancreas is damaged and unable to make insulin. Sometimes it is referred to as Type 3 Diabetes Mellitus.
Secondary diabetes is most commonly caused by pancreatitis or inflammation of the pancreas. Examples of common causes of secondary diabetes mellitus include:
Gestational diabetes is diabetes that first appears during pregnancy.
Approximately 12-14% of pregnant women will develop the condition around the 24th to 28th week of pregnancy.
It is important to remember that sometimes women who have no risk factors may develop Gestational diabetes. Therefore, all women should be tested for the condition between the 26th to 28th week of pregnancy or earlier if you have multiple risk factors for the condition.
Gestational diabetes needs to be monitored closely by the health care team as poorly controlled blood glucose levels can have severe impacts on both the health of the mother and baby.
Gestational diabetes is often managed simply with changes to diet and exercise, however some women may require tablets, insulin injections or both.
Once women with gestational diabetes give birth, the diabetes should go away. However, women who have had gestational diabetes are at greater risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus in the future and require lifelong screening.
There are many factors which may put a person at increased risk of developing this condition. Some of these include:
Only pregnant women can develop gestational diabetes. The risk factors include:
Everyone over the age of 40 should be screened for diabetes every three years using a risk calculator like AUSDRISK.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should begin having AUSDRISK assessments from the age of 18.
You can calculate your risk using the AUSDRISK score and answering 10 simple questions – https://www.diabetesaustralia.com.au/risk-calculator
Half a million Australians could have Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus but don’t know it!
The main symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus are:
The main symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus are the 4 T’s:
As insulin production declines, a patient may develop:
Whatever the type of diabetes if there is sustained, uncontrolled high blood sugar (hyperglycaemia) it can damage the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys and nerves. If you are at risk, see your doctor early to prevent this damage from happening.