What is diabetes?
Diabetes is the name given to a group of conditions in which there is too much glucose in the blood. Glucose is the body’s main source of fuel or energy. This is where insulin enters the story.
Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas. It opens the channels that let glucose move from the blood to the body’s cells, where energy can be used. Without insulin doing its job, the glucose channels are shut and glucose builds up in the blood. This can lead to high blood glucose levels, which can cause the many health problems linked to diabetes.
There are 3 main types of diabetes:
• Type 1 diabetes: In type1 diabetes, the body’s own immune system destroys the cells that make insulin. The exact cause of this is unknown, and there is currently no cure. People with type 1 diabetes have to inject insulin several times every day for the rest of their lives.
• Type 2 diabetes: The onset of type 2 diabetes is usually more gradual than type 1 diabetes, as the body becomes resistant to insulin and/or doesn’t produce enough insulin in the pancreas. There are known risk factors and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are over three times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes compared with non-Aboriginal people. People with type 2 diabetes have to carefully manage their health every day for the rest of their lives.
• Gestational diabetes: This is a type of diabetes that can occur during pregnancy. It needs to be managed carefully to protect the health of the mother and unborn baby. Gestational diabetes is usually resolved upon delivery. However, women who have had gestational diabetes have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
Why is diabetes too important to ignore?
If blood glucose levels remain too high (known as hyperglycaemia) over a long period of time, this puts the person at risk of developing complications such as vision loss, stroke, kidney failure and heart attack. These complications do not develop overnight. However, they are serious and may be prevented with careful management of diabetes.
If blood glucose levels are too low (known as hypoglycaemia or a hypo), this can make it hard to concentrate, put the person at risk of collapse or injury and make it dangerous to drive or operate machinery.
Around 1.7 million Australians live with diabetes. This includes over 1.2 million people registered with the National Diabetes Services Scheme, as well as an estimated 500,000 with undiagnosed type 2 diabetes. These people may not have any warning signs indicating something is amiss in their bodies. Diabetes Victoria estimates that there are currently in excess of 430,000 people living with diabetes in our state – more than 320,000 registered with the NDSS and 125,000 with undiagnosed type 2 diabetes.
Every day, approximately 80 Victorians develop diabetes.
Preventing type 2 diabetes
It is estimated that 3 million Australians are at high-risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Pre-diabetes is when blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough for type 2 diabetes to be diagnosed. Pre-diabetes is an invisible condition, so many people may not know they are at risk.
Diabetes is a serious and complex health condition. The symptoms may not be obvious, so it’s important to check your risk.
The good news is that if you find that you are at high risk, there is something you can do about it. Around 60% of type 2 diabetes cases can be prevented or delayed by making small lifestyle changes, including maintaining a healthy weight, eating well and being active.
The best thing to do is to find out your risk. You can find out right now using our free online risk test. It will only take three or so minutes.