Diabetes is a serious condition where your blood glucose level is too high. There are two main types: Type 1 and Type 2.

When you’ve got Type 1 diabetes, you can’t make any insulin at all. If you’ve got Type 2 diabetes, the insulin you make either can’t work effectively, or you can’t produce enough of it.

In both types of diabetes, because glucose can’t get into your cells, it begins to build up in your blood, leading to diabetes symptoms.

The common symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Going to the toilet a lot, especially at night
  • Being very thirsty
  • Feeling more tired than usual
  • Losing weight without trying to
  • Genital itching or thrush
  • Cuts and wounds taking longer to heal
  • Blurred vision

If you're diagnosed with diabetes, you'll need to eat healthilytake regular exercise and carry out regular blood tests to ensure your blood glucose levels stay balanced.

People diagnosed with type 1 diabetes also require regular insulin injections for the rest of their life.

As type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition, medicine may eventually be required, usually in the form of tablets. There are many types of medicine for type 2 diabetes. It can take time to find a medicine and dose that's right for you. Usually Type 2 diabetes is controlled without insulin but sometimes insulin may also be required.

Type 1 Diabetes

Diabetes courses are encouraged for everyone with type 1 diabetes. It doesn't matter how long you have had it. Evidence shows that people who have been on a course have more stable blood sugar levels and fewer complications.

There are various courses, including face-to-face courses like Dose Adjustment For Normal Eating (DAFNE), which focus on learning how to adjust your insulin. You will learn about:

  • Insulin adjustment
  • Carb counting
  • Exercise
  • Hypos
  • Complications
  • What to do if you're ill

Attending a course will help you to feel more confident about managing your diabetes, allow you to get better control of your blood glucose levels and be more flexible with your food and drink.

Learning online means you can do it at your own pace and at a time that suits you. You can leave and come back at any time. This might be useful if you have just been diagnosed and there's a lot to take in, or if you have already done a course but need a refresher.

Type 2 Diabetes

About 90% of people with diabetes have Type 2 diabetes.

  • A major risk factor is being overweight. The more overweight you are, the more your risk increases, especially if you're large around the middle
  • Your risk tends to increase with age. You’re more at risk if you’re aged over 40 and white or aged over 25 and of African-Caribbean, Black African or South Asian descent
  • You’re also more likely to get Type 2 diabetes if you have a parent, brother or sister with diabetes

Other factors that can affect your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes include:

  • Sedentary lifestyle - it is important to keep moving and be physically active
  • Disturbed sleep - Not getting enough sleep, or sleeping for too long have been associated with an increased risk
  • Gestational diabetes - If you have gestational diabetes during pregnancy it is important to have your blood glucose levels tested regularly afterwards as you have an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes

A healthy diet and keeping active will help you to manage your blood sugar level.

There's nothing you cannot eat if you have type 2 diabetes, but you'll have to limit certain foods. You should:

  • Make healthier choices more often, reduce your portion sizes
  • Eat a wide range of foods – including fruit, vegetables and some starchy foods like pasta
  • Keep sugar, fat and salt to a minimum
  • Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner every day – do not skip meals

Physical exercise helps lower your blood sugar level. You should aim for 2.5 hours of activity a week. You can be active anywhere as long as what you're doing gets you out of breath. Activity can be built into your day by walking faster, climbing stairs rather than taking the lift or doing more strenuous housework or gardening.

Losing weight (if you're overweight) will make it easier for your body to lower your blood sugar level and can improve your blood pressure and cholesterol. If you need to lose weight, try to do it slowly over time. Aim for around 0.5 to 1kg a week. Find out about a structured education course in your area that will help you understand and manage your diabetes.


Page last updated - August 2023

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