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Diabetes affects more than 4.5 million people in the UK – more than any other serious health condition in the UK. Every day around 700 people are diagnosed with the condition – the equivalent of one person every two minutes. It’s why we’ve dedicated the month of December, a time where indulgence is encouraged to excess, as our Let’s Talk health feature.

The number of people living with diabetes is rising fast. Since 1996, the number of people being diagnosed with diabetes in the UK has more than doubled from 1.4 million to almost 3.5 million. It’s also estimated that around 1.1 million people in the UK have undiagnosed.

Of the two main types of diabetes, we estimate that around 90 per cent of people have Type 2 diabetes.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a serious, lifelong health condition that occurs when the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood is too high because the body can’t use it properly. If left untreated, high blood glucose levels can cause serious health complications.

There are two main types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2. They’re different conditions, caused by different things, but they are both serious and need to be treated and managed properly.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition where the body attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells, meaning no insulin is produced. This causes glucose to quickly rise in the blood. The condition is treated using insulin and following a healthy lifestyle.

In Type 2 diabetes, the body doesn’t make enough insulin, or the insulin it makes doesn’t work properly, meaning glucose builds up in the blood. Type 2 diabetes is caused by a complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors. Up to 58 percent of Type 2 diabetes cases can be delayed or prevented through a healthy lifestyle.

Type 2 diabetes can sometimes initially be treated by following a healthy lifestyle and managing your weight. But many people with the condition go on to taking diabetes medication such as metformin, and in some cases need to use insulin.

There are also some rare types of diabetes; if you’d like to find out more about these, we recommend visiting the Diabetes UK website.

What causes it?

Nobody knows why people get Type 1 diabetes. Ongoing research is looking into why it happens and how it can be prevented. However research tells us it has nothing to do with diet or lifestyle.

We also don’t know exactly what causes Type 2 diabetes either. But we do know that your family history, age and ethnic background can affect your risk of developing it, and we know you’re more likely to develop it if you’re overweight or obese.

Evidence shows the best way to reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes is by eating a healthy and balanced diet, being active and reducing your weight if you’re overweight.

Diabetes UK has a ‘Know Your Risk’ tool on its website to help you understand your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes

What are common symptoms and when should you seek medical advice?

The most common symptoms of diabetes are:

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

These symptoms occur because some or all of the glucose stays in the blood, and isn’t being used as fuel for energy. The body tries to reduce blood glucose levels by flushing the excess glucose out of the body in the urine.

If you have any of symptoms of diabetes, you should contact your GP. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have diabetes, but it’s worth checking.

We want to thank Diabetes UK for sharing this invaluable information with us. Our Let’s Talk health feature is a series focused around raising awareness, helping us to be able to signpost you to further and relevant information and also importantly highlight the amazing work the charities and organisations do in combating such diseases.  

Diabetes UK is the leading UK charity that campaigns on behalf of all people affected by and at risk of diabetes. We’re also the leading charitable funder of diabetes research in the UK, investing around £7 million every year to bring about life-changing breakthroughs in care, treatment and prevention, ultimately bringing us closer to a cure.

Anyone looking for support can contact Diabetes UK’s helpline on 0345 123 2399 which is open from Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm. For more information about how to support Diabetes UK, please visit our website and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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