Diabetes is a chronic condition in which the levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood are too high. Blood glucose levels are normally regulated by the hormone insulin, which is made by the pancreas. In people with diabetes, the pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin or there is a problem with how the body's cells respond to it. The two main types of diabetes are type 1 and type 2.
Diabetes is a chronic condition in which the levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood are too high. Blood glucose levels are normally regulated by the hormone insulin, which is made by the pancreas. Diabetes occurs when there is a problem with this hormone and how it works in the body. The two main types of diabetes are type 1 (insulin dependent) and type 2 (non-insulin dependent).
Our body relies on blood glucose for energy. Insulin stimulates the body’s cells to use this glucose as energy to fuel a wide range of functions. When a person has diabetes, the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin or the body’s cells don’t respond adequately to the hormone.
Around 7.4 per cent of Australians aged 25 years or older have diabetes. The risk of diabetes increases with age: from 2.5 per cent in people aged between 35–45 years to 23.6 per cent in those over 75. Aboriginal people have one of the highest rates of type 2 diabetes in the world.
Two main types of diabetes
There are two main types of diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is:
- Caused by an autoimmune destruction of insulin-making cells in the pancreas, which means insulin is no longer made
- One of the most common chronic childhood illnesses in developed nations
- Most common in people under the age of 30, but can occur at any age
- Sometimes called insulin dependent diabetes mellitus, however this term is no longer in use.
Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is:
- Caused by either inadequate levels of insulin or a failure of the body’s cells to respond properly to insulin – most people have both of these problems
- Most common after the age of 40, although the age of onset can be earlier
- Known to have been diagnosed in overweight teenagers and children
- Often brought on by a lack of exercise or an unhealthy diet
- Frequently, but not always, associated with being overweight, particularly when the excess weight is carried around the waist – it is also common in people with high blood pressure or heart disease
- Found more commonly in people whose close relatives have diabetes and certain ethnic groups; however, the full picture about the role genes play in diabetes (the ‘genetic profile’) has not yet been worked out
- Sometimes called non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus, however this term is no longer in use.
Symptoms of high blood glucose
Most people do not have any symptoms when they develop type 2 diabetes and regular check-ups are needed to diagnose type 2 diabetes early. However, when the levels of glucose in the blood are particularly high (this is common in type 1 diabetes), symptoms develop.
These symptoms include:
- Significant weight loss
- Tiredness and lack of energy
- Excessive thirst
- Blurred vision
- Increased risk of infections, such as thrush
- Frequent urination.
Seek medical advice if these symptoms occur
Occasionally, the onset of diabetes can be abrupt. This is particularly the case with type 1 diabetes. This can lead to a condition called ketoacidosis, which is a medical emergency.
The symptoms of ketoacidosis are:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Excessive passing of urine
- Altered consciousness
Untreated diabetes can result in complications
If untreated, high blood glucose levels can result in serious complications. These include:
- Kidney damage (nephropathy)
- Eye damage (retinopathy)
- Nerve damage to the feet and other parts of the body (neuropathy)
- Heart disease (for example, angina or heart attacks), strokes and circulation problems in the legs
- Sexual difficulties
- Foot ulcers or infections resulting from circulation problems and nerve damage.
Treating type 1 and type 2 diabetes
There is no cure for diabetes. Treatment aims to prevent complications by controlling blood glucose levels, as well as blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and by achieving a healthy body weight. The treatment depends on the type of diabetes.
Treatment options for type 1 diabetes include:
- Insulin injections
- A balanced, healthy diet
- Monitoring blood glucose
- Physical activity
- Having regular checks.
- Healthy eating
- Physical activity
- Medications and (potentially) insulin at a later stage
- Weight management
- Monitoring blood glucose
- Smoking cessation
- Having regular checks.
Where to get help
- Your doctor
- Your local community health centre
- Your diabetes specialist
- Diabetes educator
- Diabetes Australia Victoria Tel. 13 RISK (13 7475)
- Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute Specialist Diabetes Clinic Tel. (03) 8532 1800
- Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Tel. (03) 9696 3866
Things to remember
- People with diabetes have high blood glucose levels caused by a problem with the hormone insulin.
- The two main types of diabetes are type 1 (insulin dependent) and type 2 (non-insulin dependent).
- There is no cure, but the symptoms can be controlled with diet, exercise and medication.
You might also be interested in:
- Carbohydrates and the glycaemic index.
- Cereals and wholegrain foods.
- Diabetes - complications.
- Diabetes - diagnostic tests.
- Diabetes - foot care.
- Diabetes - gestational.
Want to know more?
Go to More information for support groups, related links and references.
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
(Logo links to further information)
Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute
Fact sheet currently being reviewed.
Last reviewed: October 2011
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