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What is diabetes? | Diabetes UK
In this film we're going to explain how your body processes the food you eat
in order to provide all your body cells with the energy they need,
and also what happens when you have diabetes
and this system doesn't work properly. When you eat food that contains
it's broken down in the stomach and digestive system into glucose, which is
a type of sugar.
sugar. We need glucose from food because that's what gives us energy.
Carbohydrate containing foods are things like starchy foods,
sugary foods, milk, and some dairy products
and fruit. This glucose then moves into the bloodstream and the body detects
that the blood glucose level is rising. In response to that
the pancreas, which is a little gland that sits just underneath the stomach,
starts to release a hormone called insulin
and it's insulin that helps our body get the energy from the food we eat.
The blood stream then takes the glucose and the insulin
to every cell in our body that needs it.
To make this easier to understand let's look at muscle cells.
At the muscle cells it's insulin
that allows the glucose to get into the cells where it can be used for energy.
It's a bit like insulin is a key unlocking the door to the cells
so the glucose can get in.
That way, the blood glucose levels starts to drop but
the blood glucose level can be topped up at any point by the liver
releasing extra glucose that it has stored. The blood glucose rises again,
and again, the pancreas produces more insulin to move with that glucose
through the bloodstream to the muscle cells, open the doors
and let the glucose in.
The body functions best with the blood glucose at an optimum level.
It doesn't like it if the blood glucose rises too high.
Normally there's a cycle within the body which balances out
the glucose and the insulin level and this is achieved
the food you eat, the pancreas and the liver.
However in some people the system doesn't work properly
and they develop diabetes. There are two main types of diabetes –
Type 1 and Type 2. In Type 1 diabetes
the body isn't making any insulin at all. This is because of an
autoimmune response whereby
the body has destroyed the insulin producing cells in the pancreas.
We don't entirely know why that happens in some people
and not in others. Type 1 diabetes accounts for about 10 per cent of all cases.
It's most often found in the in the under 40s
and it's by far the most common type of diabetes found in childhood.
In Type 1 diabetes the
carbohydrate-containing food is turned into glucose as normal. That glucose
then moves into the bloodstream. Normally
the body would produce insulin to let that glucose into the cells but because
into the cells but in Type 1 diabetes
there is no insulin being produced so the glucose
can't get into the body cells at all, so the level of glucose in the blood
rises and rises. The body tries to lower the level of glucose,
it tries to get rid of the glucose through the kidneys.
That's why people who have undiagnosed Type 1 diabetes
tend to go to the toilet a lot to pass urine.
As the kidneys filter the glucose out of the blood,
they also take a lot of water with it so
the person with diabetes will get very thirsty.
The urine contains a lot of glucose
and that creates an environment where it's quite easy for bacteria to thrive
so it's also quite common to get thrush or genital itching.
In the same way the blood contains a high level of glucose as well
so more bacteria than usual will tend to breed in flesh wounds
and they might be slow to heal. Glucose can also build up
in the lens at the front of the eye causing the liquid in the lens to become cloudy.
That can mean that some people with undiagnosed Type 1 diabetes
can have blurred vision. Because the glucose can't get into the cells
to be used for energy, somebody who's got undiagnosed Type 1 diabetes
is going to start feeling very tired, lethargic
and unable to go about their normal daily routine. But the body still needs
an energy source
in order to work properly so what it does is it starts to break down its
and that can lead to weight loss.
So, the main symptoms of Type 1 diabetes
are going to the toilet a lot, thirst, thrush or genital itching,
slow healing of wounds, blurred vision
tiredness and weight loss. These symptoms
generally happen quite quickly often over a few weeks
and come be reversed once the diabetes is treated with insulin.
Type 2 diabetes accounts for about 90 per cent of all cases in the
It's most common in the over 40 age group in the white population
and in the over 25 age group in the South Asian population.
Type 2 diabetes is a little more complex because there are slightly more processes at
Either the body isn't producing quite enough insulin
or the insulin it is producing isn't working properly.
That can be due to being overweight
because a build up of fat can stop insulin doing its job properly
but it can also happen in people of a healthy weight.
So in Type 2 diabetes, the
carbohydrate-containing food is broken down into glucose
in the stomach and digestive system as normal. That glucose
then moves into the bloodstream. The pancreas
starts to produce insulin which moves with the glucose
through the bloodstream to all the body cells which need
glucose for energy. However the
glucose can't always get into the cells because the locks to the cell doors
have become furred up with fat deposits. That means that the
insulin can't open the cell doors properly.
So the level of glucose in the blood continues to rise.
In response to this, the pancreas produces
even more insulin so the blood glucose levels continue to rise
and the insulin levels continue to rise. This situation is further complicated by
which are desperate for energy – sending out emergency signals to the liver
to release stored glucose. The blood glucose level
up and up and the pancreas produces more and more insulin
until it can't cope anymore and eventually it can wear out.
As with Type 1 diabetes the symptoms of Type 2 diabetes
are going to the toilet a lot, thirst,
thrush or genital itching, slow healing of wounds,
blurred vision, tiredness and weight loss in some people.
The symptoms for Type 2 diabetes come along
very slowly and some people don't have any symptoms at all.
So for that reason, people can live with Type 2 diabetes for up to 10 years
before they realise that they have it. Type 2 diabetes
can be treated in a number of different ways. Initially it may be sufficient to
make changes to the food you're eating
and to take extra physical activity or lose any weight
that may be appropriate. But Type 2 diabetes
is a progressive condition and most people will need some form
of medication to treat it