Diabetes: What is it?

National Diabetes Week has come around once again, in an effort to raise awareness of the disease that is slated to become our number one burden of disease within the next five years, surpassing cancer, cardiovascular disease, and mental and behavioural disorders.

But despite this, diabetes doesn’t seem to be as much of a pressing concern to the Australian population, with research from Diabetes Australian showing that people “find the numbers hard to believe”. Facts about diabetes were reported to have “shocked” participants in a recent study. One person is diagnosed with diabetes every five minutes. on average.

In light of this, we’ve put together an info sheet on diabetes, to try and help spread awareness and knowledge of the disease.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic condition which concerns the body’s inability to regulate the glucose (sugar) levels in its blood, leading to an excess of glucose. This inability is due to either a problem with the pancreas’ capacity to produce insulin and a subsequent insulin deficiency, or a reduced sensitivity to the insulin being produced. These are Type 1 and 2 diabetes respectively, and make up the vast majority of diabetes cases.

What causes diabetes?

The triggering factor required to contract Type 1 diabetes is unknown, but theories suggest genetics play a significant role in the sense that there’s an inherited susceptibility. Type 1 diabetes is caused by your immune system mistakenly attacking the cells in your pancreas, rendering them unable to produce insulin. However it’s unclear what causes this mistake to be made, but it’s suspected that it may be due to a viral infection.

Type 2 diabetes is slightly more clear-cut, being caused in part by a combination of lifestyle and genetic factors. Type 2 diabetes develops due to one of the following reasons:

  • Your body develops a resistance to insulin
  • Your pancreas gradually stops producing enough insulin to efficiently regulate blood sugar levels
  • The insulin being produced is inefficient, or doesn’t work effectively enough

While the root cause of Type 2 diabetes is unknown, genetics and lifestyle factors (such as low fitness levels, lack of exercise, and poor diet) both play a significant part in the development of the disease.

What age groups does it affect?

Type 1 diabetes represents around 10-15% of all cases of diabetes, and generally develops in people under 30 years, especially children. However it can occur at any point in an individual’s life.

Type 2 diabetes is usually found in adults aged 45 and over, but isn’t uncommon in young people such as children and teenagers.

There’s no cure – but how do you mitigate the effects?

Diabetes is, at its core, higher than usual blood sugar levels. So the aim of diabetes treatment, regardless of type, is to reduce blood glucose levels, and keep them as close to normal as possible.

In cases of Type 1 diabetes, treatment generally takes the form of insulin injections every day, along with attempts to live a healthier lifestyle. Treatment for Type 2 diabetes can be as simple as drastic positive changes to diet and regular physical activity, however if necessary, tablets and/or insulin injections can be used.

National Diabetes Week runs from 10-16 of July. For more information on National Diabetes Week, go here.

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