Diabetes is a condition that occurs when our blood sugar levels become too high. It’s a lifelong condition that is managed rather than cured.
Blood sugar (glucose) is our body’s fuel and we get this from the food we eat. To maintain a constant blood-glucose level the body produces insulin tasked with the job of moving glucose from the blood into our body’s cells where it gets broken down to form energy.
What causes diabetes?
There are two main sorts of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2.
- Type 1 is caused by a lack of insulin.
- Type 2 occurs when the body does not respond or can't use its own insulin (insulin resistance). Type 2 diabetes is linked to obesity.
A diabetic person either lacks insulin or can’t use the insulin it produces. As a result excessive amounts of glucose circulate uselessly in the blood instead of getting absorbed into cells to be converted to energy. Soon there is more glucose than the kidneys can deal with so it gets passed out in our urine. Meanwhile our cells have nothing to burn for energy leading to a sense of constant tiredness.
How is diabetes treated?
If you have these symptoms your GP will check for diabetes. Your urine will be tested for glucose (‘sugar’). If sugar is found you’ll be given a special blood test called a ‘glucose tolerance test’ which can determine whether or not you are diabetic.
Type 1 diabetics monitor their blood-glucose levels frequently and inject insulin (or use an implanted insulin infusion pump) to boost their insulin levels to regulate the amount of glucose in their blood. If they inject too much insulin they risk becoming hypoglycemic (whereby glucose levels fall too much) leaving them light-headed. If blood glucose falls too much a person can suffer insulin shock and go into a coma.
Type 2 diabetes is managed through dieting and exercise. Sometimes medication (usually in tablet form) is also needed to ensure blood glucose is kept at normal levels.