Diabetes Awareness Week: What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a serious life-long health condition which costs the NHS around £10billion annually – a whopping 10% of the whole budget!

There are currently around 4.5 million people with the condition in the UK, including an estimated 1.1 million people who are living with Type 2 diabetes but do not know it.

Diabetes is a condition where there is too much glucose in the blood because the body cannot use it properly.

This happens because  the pancreas does not produce  any insulin, or not enough, or the insulin it does produce is unable to work properly.

This is a problem because insulin is the key that unlocks the door to the body’s cells so that glucose can enter them.

So with diabetes, the body is unable to use glucose as fuel and instead glucose builds up in the blood.

If diabetes is properly managed then people with the condition can live long and healthy lives. If not, it can lead to devastating health complications, including blindness, amputation, kidney failure and stroke, and ultimately to early death.

There are two main types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2


Type 1 diabetes develops when the insulin-producing cells in the body have been destroyed and the body is unable to produce any insulin. Everyone with Type 1 diabetes has to be treated with insulin.


Nobody knows for sure why these insulin-producing cells have been destroyed but the most likely cause is the body having an abnormal (autoimmune) reaction to the cells.

This may be triggered by a virus or other infection.

There is thought to be a genetic element to Type 1 diabetes and it is much more common in some parts of the world than others. But it has nothing to do with lifestyle or weight. It can develop at any age but usually appears before the age of 40 and most commonly in late childhood.


About 10 per cent of the 3.5 million people diagnosed with diabetes in  the UK have Type 1 diabetes.



Type 2 diabetes develops when the body still makes some insulin, but not enough, or when the insulin that is produced does not work properly (known as insulin resistance).

Initially, Type 2 diabetes can often be controlled with a healthy diet and regular physical activity.

Medication is also often required and a significant minority of people eventually progress to needing insulin.


People are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes if they are overweight, have a large waist; have a close relative with diabetes; or are from an AfricanCaribbean, Black African, Chinese or South Asian background.

Risk in these communities increases from the age of 25.

In other communities, risk increases after the age of 40.


About 90 per cent of the 3.5 million people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK have Type 2 diabetes.

There are also an estimated 1.1 million people with undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes.

11.9 million people in the UK are at increased risk of getting Type 2 diabetes.

Some people may be told by their healthcare professional that they have ‘prediabetes’.

It’s not a term we use, but it can be used by some to describe when a person has higher than normal blood glucose levels but has not been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

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