Diabetes Week 2021
This year, Diabetes Week will be taking place from the 14th to the 20th of June.
Diabetes is common in the UK, with over 4.8 million people living with the condition - that’s equivalent to one in 14 people.
In this guide, we’ll be delving into diabetes and letting you know how you can get involved with Diabetes Week this June.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a long-term condition that happens when your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high.
Glucose comes from the carbohydrates (sugars) in our food and provides us with our main source of energy.
When your blood sugar is too high, it means your pancreas isn’t producing enough insulin, or the insulin isn’t working properly.
Insulin is a hormone that helps the glucose from your food get into your cells and provide that all-important energy.
If there’s not enough insulin, the glucose will just stay in your blood, building up and leading to high blood sugar levels.
There are various different types of diabetes, but the two we all hear about the most are type 1 and type 2.
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is a serious, lifelong condition that affects around 8% of people with diabetes in the UK.
Type 1 diabetes doesn’t have anything to do with your diet or lifestyle, the exact cause is still unknown.
If you have type 1 diabetes, your body’s immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, making it impossible for your body to produce any insulin at all.
Your body will still break down the carbohydrates from food and drink and turn them into glucose, but when that glucose enters into the bloodstream, there isn’t any insulin to let it into your body’s cells and instead, the glucose will build up and cause high blood sugar.
Without treatment, people with type 1 diabetes will feel extremely tired due to the lack of energy in their cells.
This tiredness causes the body to break down fat stores to provide the energy it needs, often leading to weight loss before diagnosis.
If you’re diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, you’ll have to manage your condition through insulin injections, or a pump, and careful monitoring of your blood sugar levels to prevent complications.
It can be a challenging condition to manage, with carb counting and other changes to your lifestyle, but it’s important that your condition is kept under control.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is the most common type, affecting around 90% of people with diabetes in the UK.
It’s common in people who are overweight with an inactive lifestyle or a diet that’s high in fat, calories or cholesterol.
In type 2 diabetes, your pancreas can make insulin but it often doesn’t work properly, or there isn’t enough of it.
Just like in type 1 diabetes, this leads to a build-up of glucose in your blood, causing your blood sugar levels to be too high.
In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas will keep producing more insulin to try and tackle the problem, and sometimes this causes the pancreas to become worn out.
That means the body will produce less and less insulin, leading to even higher blood sugar levels.
Type 2 diabetes can also cause extreme tiredness due to the lack of energy in the cells, but some people won’t experience any symptoms at all.
Type 2 diabetes can be managed with a healthy diet, exercise and weight loss, but most people will need medication or insulin to help manage their condition.
What are the symptoms of diabetes?
Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes have similar symptoms.
This is because both conditions lead to high blood sugar levels, so the effects on the body can be very much the same.
Common symptoms can include:
- Frequent urge to urinate, especially at night time.
- Feeling very thirsty,
- Feeling more tired than usual.
- Unexplained weight-loss.
- Genital itching or thrush.
- Cuts and wounds take longer to heal.
- Blurred eyesight.
The symptoms of type 1 diabetes tend to come on very suddenly, whereas some people can live with type 2 diabetes for years without knowing because their symptoms progress very slowly.
It’s important you don’t ignore any of these symptoms, especially if you’re at high risk of type 2 diabetes due to your lifestyle or a family history of the condition.
The complications of diabetes
When diabetes is left untreated, there are some serious complications that could occur.
These are split into two categories: chronic complications that build up over time and acute complications that can happen at any time.
Chronic complications of diabetes can include:
- Eye problems - An eye disease called diabetic retinopathy can affect your eyesight and it’s usually picked up during an eye test.
- Foot problems - High blood sugar can damage circulation and sometimes nerve damage can affect the feeling in your feet. If left untreated, this could lead to amputation.
- Heart attack or stroke - Having high blood sugar levels for too long can cause damage to your blood vessels, sometimes leading to heart attacks and strokes.
- Kidney problems - The high blood sugar associated with diabetes can cause damage to your kidneys known as diabetic nephropathy, making it more difficult to clear extra fluid from your body.
- Nerve damage - High blood sugar levels can lead to nerve damage, which means it’s harder for the nerves to carry messages from your brain to your body.
- Gum disease - Blood sugar that’s too high can lead to more sugar in your saliva, which causes bacteria to damage your gums and tooth enamel.
- Cancer - People with diabetes are more at risk of developing certain types of cancer, such as liver or pancreas cancer.
- Sexual problems - Damage to your blood vessels can restrict blood flow to your sexual organs. This can lead to loss of sensation in women and erectile dysfunction in men. High blood sugar also leads to a higher risk of thrush or urinary tract infections.
The acute complications associated with diabetes are:
- Hypos - When your blood sugars are too low.
- Hypers - When your blood sugars are too high.
- Hyperosmolar Hyperglycaemic State (HHS) - A life-threatening emergency brought on by severe dehydration and very high blood sugars in people with type 2 diabetes.
- Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) - A life-threatening emergency where high blood sugar levels and lack of insulin leads to a build-up of ketones, a chemical in your liver that can poison the body when levels are too high.
Acute and chronic complications can be prevented when you manage your diabetes properly.
This means keeping track of your treatment and making lifestyle changes such as keeping to a healthy diet, exercising regularly and giving up smoking.
Can diabetes be cured?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure for diabetes, but scientists are conducting essential research and developing new ways to help patients manage the condition.
It is thought, however, that some people with type 2 diabetes are able to put their condition into ‘remission’ by managing their weight successfully.
Remission is when blood sugar levels are in the normal range, but it doesn’t mean the diabetes has been cured.
To stay in remission, it’s essential for people with diabetes to continue with the healthy lifestyle changes that they’ve made.
Diabetes UK is currently working on a ground-breaking study called DiRECT which focuses on a low-calorie diet to help people put diabetes into remission.
Preventing type 2 diabetes
Unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes can be prevented with lifestyle changes.
12.3 million people in the UK are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and around 3 in 5 cases can be prevented or delayed.
To prevent type 2 diabetes, you need to maintain a healthy weight with a balanced diet and enough exercise.
Research suggests that if you’re overweight, losing just 1kg (2.2lb) can reduce your risk of developing the disease.
Unfortunately, some people can be at risk of developing type 2 diabetes without being overweight.
Factors such as your age, ethnicity and family history can increase your risk, but it’s still important to make healthy lifestyle choices all the same.
You can use Diabetes UK’s Know Your Risk tool to find out if you’re at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Get involved with Diabetes Week 2021
Diabetes Week aims to celebrate the diabetes community, offering information and support for everyone affected by the disease.
This year, the focus is on sharing #DiabetesStories from all corners of the UK and Diabetes UK would love for you to share your story during the week.
The week will start with an exciting #DiabetesStories film, and there’ll be social media takeovers and live Q&As.