What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition where there is not enough insulin produced or the insulin does not work properly. Insulin is important to help us use the food we eat for energy and growth.

There are several different kinds of diabetes. The most common are:

  • Type 1 diabetes: This occurs when the body makes an antibody which damages the insulin producing cells in the pancreas (beta cells), and the body is unable to produce enough insulin.  This is the most common type of diabetes in children.
  • Type 2 diabetes: The pancreas is still able to produce insulin but this is not enough or does not work properly (insulin resistance). Type 2 diabetes is commoner in adults and often connected to being overweight. 

Why do you get diabetes?

  • The cause of type 1 diabetes is an antibody which destroys the insulin producing cells in the pancreas. Type 1 diabetes is not caused by overweight, or poor eating habits.
  • Type 2 diabetes usually develops in people over 40 years and is often connected with being overweight. There is a family tendency for this type of diabetes and often there are several people with type 2 diabetes in the same family.

How common is diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes occurs in approximately 1 in 700–1,000 people under 25 years in the UK. There are approximately 31,500 children and young people living with type 1 diabetes in the UK.

Treatment of diabetes

How is type 1 diabetes treated?

Treatments we have available now

Everyone with type 1 diabetes must take insulin and check their blood glucose regularly. Most people have several injections of insulin each day with an insulin injection pen,  some have their insulin through an insulin pump. However the insulin is taken blood glucose must be checked very regularly to keep things under control. Oral medications do not work for type 1 diabetes.

Treatments that are the subject of research but we cannot offer now

Around the world there is a lot of research into improving treatment for type 1 diabetes or preventing it happening. This includes: 

  • Better insulin pumps that will respond to changes in blood glucose
  • Ways of preventing destruction of insulin producing cells
  • Transplants or other ways of replacing the insulin producing cells

These treatments are still being studied and are not part of the ordinary treatment of diabetes anywhere in the world.

How is type 2 diabetes treated?

People with type 2 diabetes are encouraged to lose weight and have a more healthy lifestyle in addition most will need to take oral medication. Some people with Type 2 diabetes also need insulin or other injected medicines.

What will happen in the longer term?

Unfortunately anyone with diabetes is at risk of getting complications or problems related to their diabetes. The risk is reduced if you keep diabetes under good control, and so the management of diabetes aims to get the best control possible for the individual person.

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