Diabetes is a lifelong condition affecting around 4.5 million people in the United Kingdom. That means more than one in 16 people have the condition. According to the NHS, the number of people with diabetes has nearly trebled since 1996. By 2030, they estimate that around five million people will have diabetes.
The Facts and Stats report from Diabetes UK, released in 2016, says that around 700 people receive a diabetes diagnosis every day. This is equal to one person every two minutes. They also estimate that there are around 1.1 million people living with undiagnosed diabetes.
Given that the numbers are constantly growing, we've compiled this diabetes guide. You may have seen our in-depth guide to the medical conditions which affect older people. Today’s article focuses on diabetes, as we look at the symptoms, treatments, and possible causes of the condition.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes causes your blood sugar (glucose) levels to become too high. We all need glucose since this is what gives our bodies energy. The job of the pancreas is to detect glucose in the blood and release insulin. Insulin allows glucose to enter our cells. When you have diabetes, your pancreas might not make any insulin at all, it might not make enough insulin, or the body might not be able to use the insulin that it makes. This means that, without treatment, glucose is left to build up in the bloodstream.
There are two types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2. Type 2 is the most common form of Diabetes and around 90% of all adults with the condition have this version. This type is when the pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin for the body, or when the insulin produced doesn't work correctly.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas fails to produce any insulin at all. To help give you a further understanding of the two types of diabetes we will now go into detail about each one.
Type 1 Diabetes
As mentioned previously, Type 1 diabetes occurs due to there being no insulin inside your body. This is because the body's immune system has attacked and destroyed the vital cells that produce insulin. The cause of Type 1 diabetes is currently unknown; however, it has been discovered that it is not caused by your lifestyle choices.
Other names for this condition include Juvenile Diabetes and Early-Onset Diabetes due to the fact that it is more common in people under the age of 40 and usually affects people during their teenage years.
Symptoms of Type 1 diabetes include:
- Weight loss - Your body will begin to break down its own fat and muscle, causing you to lose a lot of body weight.
- Dehydration - A reaction to symptom number one, your bloodstream can become acidic causing you to feel extremely thirsty and dehydrated.
- Needing the toilet more - This is especially concerning if you are constantly getting up throughout the night to go to the toilet.
- Tiredness - You may feel constantly weaker and tired throughout the day.
- Blurred vision.
- Itching in your genitals.
- Cuts taking longer to heal.
The symptoms of Type 1 diabetes develop quickly over a period of three or four weeks. You should visit your doctor if you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above.
If you are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes you will need regular insulin injections throughout your life in order to keep your glucose levels normal. When you are first diagnosed you will be taught how to do this and how to match the amount of insulin with the types of food you eat and the amount of exercise you do.
Injections are done using an injection pen and most people need to do this between 2-4 times a day. An alternative to the pen is an insulin pump, which offers more flexibility and control over your condition. Diabetes UK say the following about the insulin pump:
"An insulin pump is a battery-operated device that provides your body with regular insulin throughout the day. The insulin is provided via a tiny, flexible tube (cannula), inserted under the skin. The tube can be left in for two to three days before it needs to be replaced and moved to a different insulin injection site."
Alongside the injections, those with Type 1 also need to check their blood sugar levels throughout the day. This is done by doing a quick finger prick blood test to ensure that your levels aren't too high or too low. Again, your doctors will explain what your ideal blood glucose levels should be.
Type 1 diabetes can put you at an increased risk of other medical conditions such as heart disease, kidney disease, and a stroke. In order to reduce your risk, you may be advised to take medicines to help control high blood pressure, a statin to reduce high cholesterol levels and a low-dose aspirin to help prevent a stroke.
Living with Type 1 Diabetes
If you're diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes you will need to stick to a healthy diet that is high in fibre, with plenty of fruit and vegetables, and low in fat, salt, and sugar. It's important to regularly eat and include starchy carbohydrates such as pasta. A special diabetes dietitian will sit down with you personally to help you through your eating plans.
It's also very important to exercise on a regular basis, to help keep your blood glucose level down. It is recommended that you aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity every week. You should always speak to your doctor before starting a new activity.
If you're a smoker or heavy drinker, you will also need to cuts these habits out of your life. Diabetes already increases the risk of heart problems, but smoking can increase this risk even further. Alcohol, on the other hand, can have an adverse effect on your blood glucose levels and can also affect your ability to carry out your insulin treatments.
People living with Type 1 diabetes will also need to be extra careful with their feet. The condition is linked to poor blood circulation in the feet and the blood glucose can damage the nerves. You will be at greater risk of developing problems such as foot ulcers and infections. To help reduce this risk you should:
- Wear shoes that fit properly.
- Visit a foot care specialist regularly.
- Check your feet for cuts, blisters, or grazes.
- Visit your doctor if you have a foot injury that doesn't begin to heal within a few days.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 occurs when there isn't enough glucose being produced, and any that is produced ends up not working correctly. We need insulin to help move glucose out of our blood and into our cells, so we can use it for energy.
This form of the condition is often linked to obesity and, unlike Type 1, is more common in older people. Other factors which can cause Type 2 diabetes include family history, age, and your ethnic background. According to Diabetes UK, 12.3 million people are at an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes. Why not read our article on Common Causes of Type-2 Diabetes for more details on your risk factors?
The symptoms of Type 2 are very similar to Type 1. However, they don't develop as quickly or strongly, which means you may have the condition for many years without even realising. Diabetes UK offer a 'Know Your Risk' test online to help to determine your type 2 diabetes risk level.
As always, if you feel that you may have some of the symptoms linked to this condition you should book an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
After being diagnosed with Type 2 you will be told by your GP to make lifestyle changes in order to look after your health. The three major areas that you'll need to look at and make changes to are:
- Healthy eating - Increasing the amount of fibre and reducing your sugar and fat intake.
- Losing weight - Do this by gradually reducing your calorie intake and becoming more physically active.
- Exercising regularly - It is important to keep active by completing a range of aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities.
As this form of the condition gets worse over time, these changes may not be enough. Eventually, you may be required to take medication to help control your blood glucose levels. To begin with, this will usually be in the form of tablets or injections.
The first medicine commonly used to help treat Type 2 is known as Metformin. This medication reduces the amount of glucose released into your bloodstream by the liver, and makes your body's cells more responsive to insulin. Other types of medication include:
- Sulphonylureas - This increases the amount of insulin produced by your pancreas.
- Pioglitazone - This makes your body's cells more sensitive to insulin, so that more glucose is taken from your blood.
- Gliptins - These work by preventing the breakdown of a natural hormone known as GLP-1, which helps the body to produce insulin in response to high blood glucose levels.
Your risk of heart disease, suffering from a stroke and kidney disease does increase if you have Type 2 diabetes so it is advised that you take other medicines such as anti-hypertensive medicine to control high blood pressure. Further treatment and dietary information can be found on the NHS website.
Living with Type 2
As previously mentioned, you will need to make various lifestyle changes once you have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Your well-being and health should be your focus, and you will need to live a healthy lifestyle in order to look after your body.
Once diagnosed you will be given a diabetes Response Team who you'll be in regular contact with. They will check your eyes, feet and nerves regularly because they can also be affected by diabetes. Various tests will also be carried out at least once a year to see how well your condition is being controlled.
As well as following the tips given in the treatment section of this article, you will also need to have your eyes screened once a year to check for diabetic retinopathy. This is an eye condition where the small blood vessels in your eye become damaged. This happens if your blood glucose level is too high for a long period of time. If this is left untreated you may suffer sight loss.
Did you know that around three in five cases of Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed? The best way to reduce your risk is by eating better, moving more, and losing weight if you're overweight.
If your doctor places you at risk of the condition, you will be given plenty of advice on the types of foods you should be eating and the amount of physical activity you should be taking part in each week. You should take this warning very seriously if you are to prevent being diagnosed.
The healthier and more active you are, the lower risk you have of diabetes. The best thing to do is to set yourself clear goals: How much weight do you want to lose by a certain date? What weight do you wish to lift by this date?
You should always try your best to plan ahead when it comes to your meals, especially if you work full-time. It's too easy to choose a takeaway when you get home from work after a long day. Take a look at the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme for more useful tips.
Diabetes qualifies you for VAT Exemption when you order a personal alarm system from Lifeline24. HMRC state that a product that has been “designed or adapted for a disability” qualifies for VAT exemption.
For a person to qualify they must meet certain criteria set by HMRC. These criteria state that the customer must have a long-term illness, a terminal illness, or a disability in order to qualify.
Staying Safe at Home
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For more information on purchasing one of our life-saving personal alarms, please speak to one of our friendly advisers on 0800 999 0400. Alternatively, complete our contact us form and we will get back to you as soon as possible.
Editor's Note: This article was updated on 22nd June 2022 to reflect current information.