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Your health: Diabetes, its symptoms and risks

Since 1996 the number of people with diabetes in the UK has doubled from 1.4million to 2.9million. By 2025 it’s estimated that this will increase to 5million. It’s also thought that there are around 850,000 undiagnosed diabetics in the UK alone.

So what is diabetes? It is a long-term condition that causes excess glucose (sugar) to be in the blood. Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose, which is then used for energy. A hormone made in the pancreas called insulin is responsible for utilising glucose and getting it into the cells of our body. To illustrate: If we are a car and petrol is the glucose, insulin is the petrol pump, so without insulin our body cells will not receive the fuel they need and there will be a build-up of glucose in our blood.

When there is excess glucose in the bloodstream, the body will respond to remove it, so a person will become thirsty, drink more and urinate more. Some of the other symptoms of diabetes are tiredness, hunger and weight loss.

There are two main types of diabetes, Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 is where no insulin is produced by the body and type 2 is where the body does not produce enough insulin for normal glucose levels or the body cannot effectively use the insulin that is being produced.

Type 1 diabetes is less common than type 2 and around 10% of people with diabetes have this type. It is also known as insulin-dependent, juvenile or early-onset diabetes because it usually develops before the age of 40, often during teenage years. Type 1 diabetics need regular insulin injections to manage their diabetes.

Type 2 occurs over the age of 40, although this is not a hard and fast rule since younger people can be affected. Depending on the severity of the disease it is managed by diet, medication and/or insulin injections.

There are many complications associated with diabetes such as cardiovascular disease, blindness, kidney failure, nerve damage and lower limb amputations to name just a few.

These risks can be lowered by closely controlling blood sugar levels, blood pressure and cholesterol. Having a healthy diet, regular exercise and not smoking is important too. This is also true for lowering the risk of getting Type 2 diabetes in the first place.

For more information on diabetes see websites diabetes.co.uk or diabetes.org.uk to take your own personal risk test.