What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a long-term condition in which the levels of glucose (a type of sugar) in the blood are too high. Diabetes occurs when there is a problem with the hormone insulin (which normally controls blood glucose levels), or how it works in the body.1
Over time, high blood glucose can result in serious health issues, including kidney damage, heart disease, eye damage and nerve damage, just to list a few.1 Carefully managing diabetes is key in lowering the risk of these complications.
How insulin normally works
To understand diabetes, we have to first understand how insulin normally works to control blood glucose.
Carbohydrates in foods such as bread, pasta and potatoes are digested and released as glucose into the bloodstream.1
The glucose in the blood is then taken up by body cells, to be used as energy or to be stored. The hormone insulin, made
by the pancreas, acts as a ‘key’ to open the doors (the glucose channels) that let the glucose move into the body’s cells.1
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.