Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not produce or use insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life.
The exact cause of diabetes is unknown, although both genetic and environmental factors, as well as lifestyle issues (for example, obesity and lack of exercise) appear to play roles.
There are two major types of diabetes, known as type 1 and type 2.
Type 1 diabetes is often diagnosed in children and teenagers, and for this reason was once called “juvenile onset diabetes.” However, people of all ages can be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. The cause is unknown, though there seems to be a strong family link that can be triggered by environmental factors such as viruses. Type 1 diabetes does not appear to be related to lifestyle or obesity.
Type 1 diabetes occurs most often in children and young adults and accounts for 10-15% of diabetes cases in Australia.1
The symptoms of type 1 diabetes may vary widely. They can include increased thirst and frequent urination, weight loss, extreme hunger, vomiting, abdominal pain and fatigue. Women with type 1 diabetes may also stop menstruating.
In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin, the hormone that helps cells use blood sugar (glucose) for energy. This is the result of an autoimmune process. There is currently no known way to prevent type 1 diabetes and it is not understood why some people get it and others don’t. Unlike type 2 diabetes, there is no known relationship between type 1 diabetes and body weight, cholesterol, or high blood pressure.
A family history of type 1 diabetes may increase the risk. Certain viral infections may also increase the risk.
Many people are first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes after being hospitalised for symptoms caused by extreme high blood sugar (hyperglycaemia) or extreme low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia). Doctors will then use a series of tests to check for ketoacidosis, a condition that can lead to coma and death. Blood tests will help them determine your blood sugar (glucose) and get an indication of how much insulin is being produced.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2004-05) there are approximately 582,000 Australians currently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, making it the most widespread form of the disease.2 While it was once called “adult onset diabetes”, children and teenagers can develop type 2 diabetes as well.
Many of the symptoms of type 2 diabetes may seem harmless at first. In fact, you can have type 2 diabetes for years without knowing it. Symptoms of high blood sugar (hyperglycaemia) may include increased thirst and frequent urination, extreme hunger, fatigue, and blurred vision.
Other problems may occur from having high blood sugar over an extended period of time. These problems may include frequent infections that are slow to heal or tingling and numbness in your hands or feet. Men with type 2 diabetes may experience erectile dysfunction. By detecting diabetes early, you increase your chances of staying healthy and experiencing fewer symptoms.
People with type 2 diabetes either do not produce enough insulin, or the cells in their body may not respond properly to the insulin they produce (insulin resistance). Why this happens is not fully known. There seems to be a relationship between type 2 diabetes and obesity, high cholesterol or high blood pressure. However, many people with these conditions do not get diabetes. Likewise, people who develop type 2 diabetes may have normal body weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.
There are a number of factors that may increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. These include family history, ethnicity, weight, inactivity, age, prediabetes (a condition in which your blood sugar is higher than normal), and gestational diabetes (diabetes that develops during pregnancy).
Doctors use blood tests to screen for diabetes. Usually, your doctor will ask you to avoid eating before he or she takes a blood sample. The sample will be sent to a laboratory, where your glucose (sugar) levels will be measured. Some doctors may also perform this test in their office with a glucose meter.
Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.