What is diabetes?
Learning a bit about our body and any health conditions we have goes a long way in helping us manage those conditions and our overall health. The more knowledge and understanding you have of diabetes, the better equipped you are, and the more you will understand your diabetes management plan. This section is here to empower you to learn about what goes on with the glucose in your body when you have diabetes.
Defining diabetesDiabetes is a long-term condition in which your body is unable to maintain healthy levels of glucose (a type of sugar) in the blood. This can lead to high levels of blood glucose, which can have long and short term health complications.1 Diabetes can occur, due to the pancreas not being able to make insulin, not making enough insulin, or when insulin is produced, it does not work effectively.2 Insulin is a hormone that is essential for ensuring our blood glucose levels stay at a healthy level.1
There is the potential for some complications when you have diabetes, such as heart attacks and strokes.1 Speak to your healthcare professional to learn more about these.
How insulin normally worksTo understand diabetes, we have to first understand how insulin normally works to control blood glucose.
Carbohydrates are a source of energy for your body, especially your brain. They break down and are digested and release glucose into the bloodstream.3
Glucose is absorbed in all areas of the body for energy, with excess glucose being stored in the liver, or converted to fat and stored in other body tissues.4
Insulin is the hormone produced by the pancreas, opens the glucose channels in cells to allow the glucose to move from the bloodstream to the other areas in the body.4
If you have diabetes, you either don't have insulin to help move the glucose to the cells, there isn't enough insulin, or the insulin produced does not work properly to move the glucose into the cells.4
Types of diabetes
There are two main types of diabetes – type 1 and type 2.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body’s immune system destroys the insulin-making cells in the pancreas, so insulin is no longer produced. This means the body cells cannot take up glucose and it is left in the bloodstream.1
In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas is still producing insulin but the body’s cells are not responding to it properly (so glucose is not taken up from the bloodstream the way it normally is). This is sometimes referred to as ‘insulin resistance’ – meaning your body is building resistance to the effect of insulin. As insulin resistance builds, the pancreas cannot keep up with the increasing demand for insulin, resulting in too much glucose being left in the blood.1
During pregnancy, some women develop high blood sugar levels. This condition is known as gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) or gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes typically develops between the 24th and 28th weeks of pregnancy. If you develop gestational diabetes while you’re pregnant, it doesn’t mean that you had diabetes before your pregnancy or will have it afterward. But gestational diabetes does raise your risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.