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understanding diabetes

Diabetes is a relatively common health condition which in some cases is life-long but in others can develop with age or because of other pre-existing illnesses. Put simply, it’s an illness that means that the level of glucose that is in the bloodstream is put into disarray because the body cannot use it properly. It often occurs because the Pancreas, responsible for the release and control of a chemical called insulin, either produces none at all or very little.

Types of diabetes

Diabetes can typically be categorized in two ways:

Type 1 Diabetes: This form of the condition arises when the Pancreas cannot produce any insulin at all and sometimes happens as a result of a childhood or adolescent illness, or is sometimes present from birth. It will typically appear before the age of forty in most sufferers. Type 1 Diabetes is mainly controlled by the use of regular insulin injections, a healthy, low fat, high fiber diet and a solid exercise regime. Regular monitoring from a Doctor or Diabetic Nurse is essential.

Type 2 Diabetes: This type of diabetes means that the Pancreas can produce a little insulin, but not enough to ensure that blood sugar levels remain stable. It’s more common in people over forty, though can appear in younger people. Typically, this will be controlled largely by diet, regular blood sugar monitoring by both the patient and a healthcare professional and exercise.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms and warning signs for either Type 1 of Type 2 diabetes are largely the same. However, it is important to recognise that in someone with the former, the symptoms will appear very quickly over a period of a few weeks or months. In someone who may be suffering from the latter, the symptoms will develop over a longer period of time and may initially be more difficult to spot. They include:

  • Voracious thirst for water or sugary drinks
  • Extreme tiredness and fatigue
  • Passing urine more frequently, especially during the night
  • Weight loss despite not eating any less
  • Women may suffer from frequent episodes of thrush
  • Men may suffer from genital itching and discomfort
  • Blurred vision
  • Poor wound healing

If you think you may be suffering from one or more of these symptoms it’s incredibly important to seek help from your Doctor as soon as possible.

Diagnosing diabetes

Testing for the condition is done in a number of different ways. Firstly, a Doctor or Nurse will ask you to produce a urine sample which will be tested for glucose. In someone who doesn’t have diabetes, there will be no glucose present in the sample. In someone that does have the condition; glucose will be present in the urine. This is due to the fact that the kidneys can’t process the excess and so the body removes it through the bladder.

If, after a urine sample, there is glucose present, the next step is to have something called a Glucose Tolerance Test. This is a test which involves the patient having a twelve hour fast, after which a sample of blood will be taken. Then the patient is given a sugary, high glucose drink. After a period of two hours, another blood sample is taken and the results will determine whether or not diabetes is present.

In some cases, the reading may just show that the patient has something called Impaired Glucose Tolerance, which means the blood sugar is slightly raised, but can be controlled with diet. If the results show diabetes, dietary changes alongside medication will be prescribed, plus regular checks with a Diabetic Nurse or Doctor.

Treating diabetes

At the present moment in time, there is no cure for this condition and treatment is mainly about keeping the symptoms under control. As previously mentioned, this is done largely by diet, exercise and the right form of medication. Type 1 Diabetes may require injections of insulin, whilst Type 2 Diabetes may require a drug called Metformin to help with the symptoms. In some, but not all patients, weight loss is recommended too.

Monitoring blood sugar is extremely important, as is noticing which foods and drinks affect how the patient feels. As with many conditions, this is a very individual thing and what affects one diabetic may be perfectly fine for another. Most advice is that a low fat, high fiber diet with a good range of fruits and vegetables, plus good quality, slow release carbohydrates and lean protein is the way forward. Highly processed, fatty and sugary foods must either not be eaten at all, or only in strict moderation. Sugary drinks and alcohol are for the most part, to be avoided, as are their diet or low sugar/alcohol counterparts.

Complications of diabetes

If diabetes is left unchecked or undiagnosed for a long time, it can, sadly, lead to the development of other more serious conditions. In the short term, attacks of hypoglycaemia (a temporary drop in blood sugar, causing mild to moderate discomfort and confusion) can occur, as can the more serious condition of diabetic ketoacidosis, which is when the blood sugar remains far too high for too long. It can cause nausea, vomiting and coma if not detected quickly.

In the long term, diabetes can cause problems with the cardiovascular system, including an increased chance of heart attack. It can also lead to something called Diabetic Retinopathy, which is damage to the retina caused by persistent blurred vision and the increase in blood sugars. There can also be complications relating to the extremities as the constant fluctuation of blood sugar can cause damage to the nerves in the hands and feet causing numbness, tingling and loss of sensation.

Diabetes Resources



Diabetes Blogs

It can sometimes help to read about other patients and carer’s experiences with the condition. With that in mind, here is a selection of blogs that give a lot of helpful information on a more personal level.

Bittersweet Diabetes



A very useful blog written by a sufferer, explaining her experiences with the condition and how she copes on a day to day basis. Very interesting advice on exercise and diet and also the chance to put any questions you may have, to the blog’s host.

Adventures In Diabetes



A well written blog for parents who are bringing up children with diabetes, it offers interesting perspectives on the difficulties young children can face growing up with the condition and there is also good advice on eating and diet.

Scott’s Diabetes



This blog is written by a sufferer who has got over thirty years experience of dealing with diabetes. There is plenty of good, solid information on clinical studies, trials and news relating to the condition. Alongside this, there are really useful links to other sites that can help.

The Poor Diabetic


the poor

A very well written and thought provoking site, offering lots of sound advice and written in a very unique and entertaining way. Plenty of practical advice, plus lots of information on the kinds of complications that can arise from being diabetic.


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