Introduction to Diabetes

Introduction to Diabetes

What is Diabetes?


Diabetes is a condition that is life-long, cannot be cured and can only be managed by careful food and drink intake and regular testing of blood sugar levels.


Diabetes is a result of the hormone insulin, secreted by the pancreas to break down glucose in the blood, not being produced enough to sufficiently break it down.



What are the Diabetes Symptoms, or Signs of Diabetes?


There are a number of symptoms that are potentially linked to diabetes. If you notice any of these then you should contact your GP as soon as possible. Symptoms that could be caused by diabetes include:


  • Needing to wee a lot, particularly at night time.
  • Regularly being thirsty
  • Feeling more tired than usual
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Genital itching or thrush
  • Wounds, such as cuts, taking longer to heal
  • Blurred vision

What is Type 1 Diabetes?


Type 1 diabetes is when you cannot produce insulin at all.


This means that in order to reduce its effects, you must get insulin into your body by injection or pump.


You will also need a carefully balanced diet as well as a regular exercise in order to keep diabetes under control.


What is Type 2 Diabetes?


Type 2 diabetes, unlike type 1, is a type of diabetes where your body does produce insulin.


However, it is insufficient to break down the glucose in the blood which if untreated, leads to severe problems.


Image of Insulin


Are There Any Other Types of Diabetes?


Yes, other types of diabetes include:


  • Gestational diabetes
  • Alström syndrome
  • Maturity-onset diabetes of the young (MODY)
  • Wolfram syndrome
  • Neonatal diabetes

What is Gestational Diabetes?


Gestational diabetes is produced during pregnancy and disappears after birth.


It’s most common during the latter half of a pregnancy but can be produced at any time.


It is caused when the body cannot produce enough insulin for both the mother and baby.


What is Alström Syndrome?


Alström syndrome is a rare form of diabetes that is genetically inherited.


The first symptom is vision deterioration and can lead to blindness.


It can also cause hearing loss and obesity in children.


In later life, Alström syndrome often becomes type 2 diabetes in later life.


What is Maturity-Onset Diabetes of the Young (MODY)?


Maturity-onset diabetes of the young (MODY) is a rare form of diabetes that has a 50% chance of being passed from parent to child.


It is caused by a mutation of a single gene. MODY is so rare that people who have it are often diagnosed with type 1 or type 2 diabetes by mistake.


What is Wolfram Syndrome?


Wolfram syndrome is a rare genetic disorder that has several common features associated with it:


  • Diabetes mellitus – similar to type 1 diabetes but it hasn’t destroyed the insulin-producing cells. It is treated the same with injections of insulin. Everyone who has Wolfram syndrome will get diabetes at some point.
  • Diabetes insipidus – this is a condition where your body doesn’t produce enough of the hormone vasopressin, which helps you pass urine properly. As a result, you become thirsty frequently and need to pass urine often. Roughly half of the people who have Wolfram syndrome will have diabetes insipidus.
  • Optic atrophy – this is when the optic nerve wastes away, causing colour blindness and a gradual loss of vision. Everyone with Wolfram syndrome will get optic atrophy.
  • Deafness – about two-thirds of people with Wolfram syndrome will suffer from hearing loss, with a quarter requiring the use of a hearing aid.
  • Renal problems – this causes bedwetting as well as needing to urinate frequently. This affects two-thirds of those with Wolfram syndrome.
  • Neurological problems – a loss of balance, muscle jerking, loss of smell and taste, breathing problems and depression affects about a quarter of those who have Wolfram syndrome.
  • Chronic fatigue – those who have Wolfram syndrome will suffer from a loss of physical stamina and require more sleep.

What is Neonatal Diabetes?


Neonatal diabetes is a condition that affects young babies under the age of nine months.


It is unlike type 1 diabetes where the insulin-producing cells have been destroyed.


There are two types of neonatal diabetes:


  • Transient
  • Permanent

Transient diabetes doesn’t last forever and usually go away before they are 12 months old.


It can, however, return in later life. Permanent, as the name suggests, is permanent.


If I Have Diabetes, How Do I Test My Blood Sugar Levels?


Testing your blood sugar levels in order to control the effects of diabetes is an important job.


There are a number of ways to do it.


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How to Test Blood Sugar Levels


The most common way of testing your blood sugar levels was to prick your finger to draw blood which is then placed into a monitoring system which gives a reading of the blood sugar level.


There are more modern systems which no longer require strips, such as the Accu-Chek Mobile Blood Glucose Monitoring System.


If you want to keep it old school, then you can get something like the GlucoRx Q Blood Glucose Monitoring System.




What is the Recommended Blood Sugar Level?


There is a range of what is a good lever for the glucose in your blood to be.


For those who do not suffer from diabetes, the range recommended is as follows:


  • Between 4.0 to 5.4 mmol/L when fasting
  • Up to 7.8 mmol/L 2 hours after eating

For those with diabetes, the ranges are:


  • Before meals: 4 to 7 mmol/L for people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes
  • After meals: under 9 mmol/L for people with type 1 diabetes and under 8.5mmol/L for people with type 2 diabetes
Image of a OneTouch Diabetes Test

What Does mmol/L Mean?


Mmol/L means millimoles per litre.


A millimole is a measurement of atoms and is really, really small.


To properly understand millimoles and the variants surrounding them you need to have a passion for chemistry.


Mmol/L basically measures the amount of sugar in the blood.


Can I get any Blood Sugar Testing Equipment from the NHS?


Yes, you can.


From 1st November 2017, you have been able to get a Flash Glucose Monitoring System on the NHS.


This device works by using the sensor the size of a £2 coin that goes onto the back of the arm, with a probe going in the skin.


You then flash it with a sensor which gives you a reading and an arrow telling you whether your level is higher or lower than the previous reading.


One of the most popular flash glucose monitors is the Freestyle Libre 2, which has sensors that last for 2 weeks at a time.


What is worth noting is that this type of sensor does not measure your blood sugar level.


It, in fact, measures the glucose in the cells surrounding the skin, known as interstitial fluid.


This level lags your blood sugar level by about 5 minutes, or longer if you are eating or exercising.


You can also get testing strips as part of a prescription.


What do I do After I Have Tested My Blood Sugar Levels?


This depends on the reading and if your blood sugar level is too high or too low.


If the level is too high, then you could inject some insulin into the body to break down the glucose. Another thing you can do is go for a walk.


This can help but it does depend on the person. Another thing you can do is drink more water, which will flush excess sugar out of your system.


If the level is too low, then you eat or drink something sugary to help get the sugar level back up.



This could be a small glass of a fizzy soft drink or some sweets or chocolate.




More Information


Some good sources for information about diabetes and tips on how to live with the condition can be found at and


Paul Kelly - Medical Content Writer
James O'Loan - CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist
James O'Loan , CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist on 22 September 2021
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