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Diabetes basics

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a collection of conditions involving problems the body has with the hormone insulin. Normally, the pancreas releases insulin to help your body store and use the sugar and fat from the food you eat. Diabetes occurs when one of the following happens:

  • When the pancreas does not produce any insulin
  • When the pancreas produces very little insulin
  • When the body does not respond appropriately to insulin ( insulin resistance).

There is no cure for diabetes, but it can be treated and managed.

What are the types of diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes with insulin resistance and problems producing enough insulin.

A person with type 1 diabetes cannot produce insulin themselves, so needs to take insulin to manage their blood sugar levels.

Gestational diabetes only affects some women during pregnancy.

What role does insulin play?

To understand why insulin is important in diabetes, it helps to know more about how the body uses food for energy. Your body is made up of millions of cells. To make energy, these cells need food in a very simple form. When you eat or drink, much of your food is broken down into a simple sugar called glucose. Then, glucose is transported through the bloodstream to the cells of your body where it can be used to provide some of the energy your body needs for daily activities.

The amount of glucose in your bloodstream is regulated by the hormone insulin. Insulin should always be being released in small amounts by the pancreas. When the amount of glucose in your blood rises to a certain level, the pancreas will release more insulin to push more glucose into the cells. This causes the blood glucose levels to drop.

To keep your blood glucose levels from getting too low (hypo or hypoglycaemia), your body signals you to eat and releases some glucose from storage kept in the liver.

People with diabetes either don't make insulin, or enough insulin, or their body's cells are resistant to insulin, leading to high levels of sugar circulating in the blood, called simply 'high blood sugar'.

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

Diabetes symptoms include:

How is diabetes managed?

The goals of managing diabetes are to keep the blood sugar level within a healthy range based on individual targets.

This involves balancing food and drink choices with medication and exercise.

Medication, including insulin injections, will depend on the type of diabetes diagnosed and how high a person's blood sugar levels are.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on October 20, 2017

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