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Diabetes is a long term condition that causes a person's blood sugar level to become too high. High blood sugar levels can cause serious long-term health problems. 

World Diabetes Day 2019

World Diabetes day is on 14 November. Find out more 

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a long term condition – this means that while it cannot be cured, it can be managed and controlled. There are two main types of diabetes; type 1 and type 2.

Type 1 diabetes is where the body is not able to make any insulin, which our bodies need to control our blood sugar levels. The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is not clear, and there is no way to prevent it from developing.

Type 2 diabetes is where the body produces less insulin than it needs, or the body stops reacting to insulin in the same way. Both of these can cause blood sugar levels to become too high.  

A person’s risk of type 2 diabetes tends to increase as they get older, however more children and young people are now being diagnosed. Obesity is a significant risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Some groups, such as people of black or south Asian ethnicity, or those with close relatives with type 2 diabetes are also at increased risk. 

It is thought that up to 58 per cent of type 2 diabetes could be delayed or prevented through changes to lifestyles. 

Some pregnant women suffer from what is called gestational diabetes, as their bodies cannot produce enough insulin. This diabetes often goes away after the baby has been born, but can cause problems during or after pregnancy – this can often be avoided if gestational diabetes is detected early and kept an eye on, and treatment given if necessary. 

Identifying diabetes

Nearly eight per cent of the adult population is diagnosed with diabetes. Another four per cent of adults are thought to have diabetes which has not been diagnosed yet.

Diabetes is diagnosed using blood tests, and a few tests may be needed to confirm the diagnosis.

If you have any of these symptoms, speak to your GP:

  • feeling very thirsty
  • passing urine more often than usual, particularly at night
  • blurred vision
  • cuts or wounds that heal slowly
  • feeling very tired
  • weight loss and loss of muscle bulk.

Get more information about NHS Health Checks and how they can help to prevent diabetes and other long term conditions

Preventing type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed by maintaining a healthy weight, getting plenty of exercise and eating a balanced diet. Quitting smoking and drinking in moderation can also help minimise your risk. 

If you have already been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, these changes to your lifestyle can also help to control your symptoms and minimise your risk of developing complications. 

Find out more

NHS Choices has information about the cause of diabetes, the different types of diabetes and treatment.

Check out the One You website to complete a free How are You? quiz, which will give you personalised recommendations on how some small changes could make a big difference to your health and wellbeing. There’s lots of hints and tips, and even a range of free apps to support and motivate you.

Learn more about making lifestyle changes and get support to stop smoking or to maintain a healthy weight.

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