Diabetes is a chronic disease with serious complications, currently affecting an estimated 1.7 million Australians.
About 275 adults develop diabetes every day, yet research shows that most Australians think diabetes is not a serious illness and believe they have a lower risk of developing it than they actually do.
Diabetes Mellitus (Diabetes) is the name given to a group of conditions that occurs when the level of glucose (a type of sugar) in the blood becomes higher than normal.
Insulin is a hormone that moves glucose from your blood stream, into the cells of your body where it is used for energy. When you have diabetes, the body either can’t make enough insulin or the insulin that is being made does not work properly. This causes your blood glucose level to become too high.
High blood glucose levels can affect both your short and long term health.
There are two main types of diabetes – type 1 and type 2. At this stage there is no known cure for either type of diabetes, although diabetes can be well managed.
Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age, but is more often diagnosed in children and young adults.
In type 1 diabetes, the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin are destroyed by the body’s own immune system. Why this happens is uncertain. As the body is unable to make its own insulin, injections of insulin are the only treatment at present and are needed to survive.
The onset of type 1 diabetes is usually sudden and symptoms are obvious. Symptoms can include excessive thirst and passing large amounts of urine, unexplained weight loss, weakness and fatigue and blurred vision.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes affecting 85 to 90 per cent of all people with diabetes. Type 2 diabetes usually develops in adults over the age of 45 years, but it is increasingly occurring at a younger age.
Type 2 diabetes tends to run in families and is often triggered by being inactive or carrying excess weight around the abdomen. It is known as a ‘lifestyle disease’ and it is not uncommon to have high cholesterol and high blood pressure as well.
Unlike type 1 diabetes, people with type 2 diabetes are still able to make their own insulin. Although the following may occur:
- There may not be enough insulin for the body’s needs
- The cells in your body are resistant to the action of insulin. It is being produced, but cannot work effectively. This is called “insulin resistance”
- There is a combination of both problems.
In the early stages your body may be producing more insulin than normal, but with time, the pancreas becomes exhausted from trying to keep up and makes less insulin. Tablets may be required and eventually, even insulin injections to help control the blood glucose level.
Symptoms of type 2 diabetes can be similar to those for type 1 diabetes, although they tend to occur more gradually and rapid weight loss is not usually seen. Persistent infections, such as candida (genital rash and itching) or skin infections can also occur.
Many people with type 2 diabetes do not experience any symptoms and feel completely well, so it is possible to have undiagnosed diabetes for a number of years. Sometimes, the first sign that something is wrong is when they present to their doctor with a complication of diabetes such as a heart attack, eyesight problems or foot problems.
The management of type 2 diabetes involves regular physical activity, healthy eating and losing excess weight. Many people will also need to take tablets and/or insulin injections in addition to lifestyle changes as the condition progresses.
Pre-diabetes is a condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. People with pre-diabetes are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
There are two conditions that fit into the pre-diabetes category:
- Impaired Fasting Glucose (IFG)
- Impaired Glucose Tolerance (IGT)
- IGT or IFG are detected with the same Oral Glucose Tolerance Test that is used to diagnose diabetes.
Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy and goes away after the baby is born. In Australia three to eight per cent of pregnant women are diagnosed with gestational diabetes. The most common time to develop this condition is between the 24th and 28th week of the pregnancy.
- About 100,000 Australian adults (0.8 per cent) develop diabetes each year
- About 890,000 Australians are currently diagnosed with diabetes. For every person diagnosed, it is estimated that there is another who is not yet diagnosed, a total of about 1.7 million people
- Nearly one Australian in four over the age of 25 years has either diabetes or impaired glucose metabolism (pre-diabetes)
- The total number of Australians with diabetes and pre-diabetes is estimated at 3.2 million
- People with diabetes have a similar mortality risk to smokers
- Over a five year period people with diabetes are twice as likely to die as people with normal glucose tolerance
- People with pre-diabetes have a 45 to 55 per cent increase in mortality risk