World Diabetes Day 2019: What causes diabetes, what are the different types and how can it be treated?

Sabrina Barr
Theory that Type 1 diabetes caused by overactive immune system may have been turned on its head: Getty/iStock

With the number of people with diabetes in the UK doubling over the past two decades, it’s important that people are educated on the symptoms, causes and effects of the chronic condition.

There are currently around 3.7 million diagnosed cases of diabetes across the country, with many at risk of developing some forms of the disease due to factors such as childhood obesity.

So what are the symptoms of diabetes, what's the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes, how is it caused and how can it be treated?

Here’s everything you need to know about diabetes for World Diabetes Day:

What is diabetes and how is it caused?

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that regulates your blood sugar levels.

It does this by breaking down the glucose that's in your blood so that it can be used for energy, explains the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

When a person has diabetes, then this means that their pancreas is unable to produce enough or any insulin to break down the glucose in their blood.

This can lead to a drastic increase in their blood sugar levels.

The amount of blood glucose that you have in your body typically depends on the foods that you eat, hence if you eat sugary foods, your blood sugar levels will rise.

People who consume inordinate quantities of sugar are more likely to develop less severe forms of diabetes.

However, whether or not a person is diagnosed as diabetic may also depend on their genetic makeup, explains Diabetes.co.uk.

What are the different types of diabetes?

There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2.

If someone is suffering from type 1 diabetes, then this means that their body isn’t producing any insulin at all and therefore has very serious implications for their health.

People who have type 1 diabetes have an increased risk of developing other health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness and circulation problems.

Scientists have been unable to pinpoint the exact cause of type 1 diabetes, the Mayo Clinic explains, with genetics being the most likely factor.

While type 1 diabetes is commonly found in children, it can be diagnosed at any age.

When someone has type 2 diabetes, this means that their body is either unable to produce enough insulin, or the insulin that the pancreas is able to produce isn’t working sufficiently, explains Diabetes UK.

While genetics may also play a role in a person developing type 2 diabetes, it can also be caused by other factors such as whether or not they follow a healthy and active lifestyle.

Approximately 12.3 million people in the UK reportedly have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in future, due to factors such as obesity.

Symptoms of type 1 or type 2 diabetes can include fatigue, unexplained weight loss, excessive thirst and frequent urination.

How can diabetes be treated?

People who’ve been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes may need to take medication in order to reduce the amount of glucose in their blood.

They should also aim to include more healthy foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts and high-fibre cereals in their diets and reduce the amount of sugar that they consume.

Those who’ve been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, the more severe form of the disease, must treat the condition with insulin injections or pumps every day.

They may also need to check their blood sugar levels every day by using a finger prick blood test.

The type and quantity of insulin that you need is a matter that you can discuss with a medical professional.

The NHS also recommends maintaining an active lifestyle and carrying out regular blood tests to keep an eye on blood sugar levels if you have diabetes.

Can diabetes be reversed?

Last year, Labour's deputy leader Tom Watson revealed that he'd been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, but had "reversed" the condition by making changes to his diet and exercising more.

After being diagnosed with the condition in summer 2017, Watson eliminated junk food, refined sugar and processed food from his diet and took up cycling, boxing and weightlifting.

The politician told the audience at the annual conference of health industry association ukactive that his diabetes was in "remission" following the changes that he'd made to his lifestyle.

Diabetes.co.uk explains that people with type 2 diabetes can effectively "reverse" their condition by following similar steps.

If you have type 2 diabetes and you think that you may be able to reverse your condition by following a healthier diet and doing more exercise, then it may be wise to speak to a nutritionist or a medical professional for further advice.

Furthermore, if you're on type 2 diabetes medication that you think you no longer need, make sure that you speak to a doctor before making any changes to your routine.

For more information on diabetes, visit the Diabetes UK website here.

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