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Understanding Diabetes

There are currently more than 3.8 million people with diabetes in the UK. It is estimated that a further 500,000 adults have type 2 diabetes, but don’t know it.

There are a number of types of diabetes, the most common being type 1 and type 2.

Type 1 diabetes accounts for around 5-15% of those diagnosed, with type 2 diabetes being the most prevalent and accounting for around 85-95% of people with diabetes in the UK.

Currently, the treatment and care of diabetes and its related conditions accounts for around 10% of the annual NHS spend, approximately £10 billion per year, or £1 million per hour!

It is reported that around 80% of this cost is associated with the treatment of complications, many of which could be avoided.

The Healthier You: NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme launched in early 2016. The aim is to identify those at high risk and refer them on to a behaviour change programme as evidence suggests that supporting people to maintain a healthy weight and be more active can significantly reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

What is diabetes?

In simple terms diabetes prevents your body converting sugars and starches in your food into energy. The body uses insulin to do this. When diabetes is present the body fails to produce insulin or the insulin it does produce doesn’t work properly (insulin resistance).

When we eat food some special cells in our pancreas should produce insulin. The insulin transports glucose, made from carbohydrates in the food, into the cells, where it can be used by the body for energy. Sugars and starches are the most efficient source of food energy and are carried in the blood as glucose.

What are the different types of diabetes?

In type 1 diabetes the pancreas fails to produce insulin and insulin injections are required for life.

In type 2 diabetes the cause is generally weight related. If you are slim it is likely your body is not producing enough insulin to convert the carbohydrate you eat into energy. You may need tablets and/or insulin to help. If you are overweight it is more likely that insulin resistance is responsible.

Reducing your weight and being physically active will reduce your insulin resistance, but you may need medication or to inject insulin to help.

There are other types of diabetes but they are unusual conditions and specialist care should be provided.

Causes of diabetes

The cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown but it is thought to be an auto-immune process. In effect the body produces antibodies to the pancreas, damaging it and preventing it producing insulin. Type 1 diabetes only affects about 10% of all people with diabetes and it usually starts below the age of 40.

Type 2 diabetes is more likely to affect older people, although it is being found increasingly in younger people - especially if they are overweight and lacking in physical activity.

Type 2 diabetes is strongly linked to obesity and tends to run in families. It is more prevalent in people of South Asian and Afro-Caribbean descent. Many people with type 2 diabetes have high blood pressure and cholesterol and may need tablets to control these too.