Diabetes: Your complete guide to understanding this condition

There's type 2, type 1 and pre-diabetes. Here's what you need to know.

Diabetes is the fastest growing chronic condition in Australia, and it's estimated that 280 Aussies develop diabetes every day – that's one person every five minutes.
Worryingly, type 2 diabetes makes up 85 to 90 per cent of all diabetes cases, and that number is growing.
Whether you've already been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, you have pre-diabetes or you just want to get your blood sugar under control, the key to managing diabetes is knowledge.
We guide you through the need-to-know of type 2 diabetes and how to prevent it, manage it and, in many cases, beat it.

The down-low on diabetes

Diabetes is a condition when the pancreas is no longer able to make the hormone insulin, or the body can't effectively use the insulin it produces.
When we eat foods containing carbohydrates they are broken down into glucose (sugar) in the blood. Insulin transfers glucose from the blood into the liver and muscle cells for energy.
As long as your body can keep up with the amount of insulin it needs, blood sugar levels stay in the healthy range. When insulin isn't produced or isn't controlled properly, it leads to raised glucose levels in the blood, also known as hyperglycemia.
Over time, this can cause complications throughout the body, such as blindness, kidney damage, gum disease and heart disease.
Because diabetes is a serious condition, it can have a significant impact on quality of life and can reduce life expectancy. While we're mainly talking about type 2 diabetes, it's worth knowing about the three main types:

Type 1 diabetes

This is an auto-immune condition in which the immune system is activated to destroy the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. It's estimated that type 1 diabetes makes up 10 per cent of diabetes cases, and it most often presents in children aged seven to 12.
Experts don't know what causes this auto-immune reaction and it's not linked to lifestyle factors.
Sharon Stone has to do daily insulin injections for her type 1 diabetes. Image: Getty

Type 2 diabetes

Known as a "lifestyle disease", type 2 diabetes develops when the body becomes resistant to the normal effects of insulin and/or gradually loses the capacity to produce enough insulin, leading to high blood sugar levels.
It's most often diagnosed in adulthood, in your 30s or 40s, but increasing numbers of younger people are developing it.

Gestational diabetes

A form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy, and is caused because a mother can't produce enough insulin – a pregnant woman's needs are two to three times that of normal. It is diagnosed when higher than normal blood sugar levels first appear during pregnancy.
While it usually goes away after the baby is born, it is a risk factor for developing pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes later.
Mariah Carey developed gestational diabetes during her pregnancy. Image: Getty


Pre-diabetes is a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal as a result of insulin resistance, although they're not high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes.
Symptoms of pre-diabetes include extreme thirst, urinating more often, feeling drowsy and wounds being slow to heal. If you're diagnosed with pre-diabetes, you're at 10 to 20 times greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
However, you can prevent pre-diabetes from progressing to full-blown type 2 diabetes through making some healthy lifestyle changes.

What is insulin resistance?

While the mechanism behind insulin resistance isn't yet fully known, it's thought that insulin resistance occurs when the body's cells become less affected by insulin. This initially causes the pancreas to secrete more insulin to keep blood sugar at a safe level.
Over time, the pancreas isn't able to maintain the release of extra insulin to keep up with the body's increasing resistance, and this is when type 2 diabetes can begin to develop.
Some research has shown that insulin resistance, independent of diabetes, is associated with heart disease. Scientists believe insulin resistance is largely caused by excess weight and lack of physical activity.
Download our Diabetes Health Guide here.
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