World Diabetes Day raising awareness about symptoms & causes

Diabetes Part 1 – What it is, diabetes symptoms and how it occurs

This is the first of a two-part series on diabetes. In the first part we talk about what it is, how it occurs and the common diabetes symptoms…

What is diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus (commonly referred to as diabetes) is a condition in which the body cannot effectively control the amount of sugar, also known as glucose, in the blood. Normally, blood sugar levels are controlled by a hormone called insulin. Insulin moves sugar from the blood into cells, where it can be used as energy. If insulin cannot do this, blood sugar levels rise, and this can be damaging.

What happens to food and sugar in people without diabetes?

When we eat, food is broken down in the gut into nutrients that can be used by the body. Carbohydrates, such as bread and pasta are broken down into sugar. Some foods such as chocolate and sweets already contain sugar that do not need to be broken down further. These sugars are absorbed into the blood stream, causing blood sugar levels to rise.

The body recognises this and increases the amount of insulin in the body. Insulin transports the sugar from the blood stream to the cells in the body, where it can be used as energy or stored. In diabetes there is either not enough insulin to do this job, or the effectiveness of this insulin is reduced. This in turn leads to higher levels of sugar in the blood stream.

Having higher levels of sugar in the blood stream is toxic to the body and may also produce typical diabetes symptoms. High levels of sugar cause damage to the blood vessels which can then lead to wide ranging problems for the body.

There are two main types of Diabetes

  1. Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune condition, where the body attacks the cells which normally produce insulin. This stops insulin being produced. Type 1 diabetes is less common than type 2 – about 10% of people with diabetes have type 1.
  2. Type 2 diabetes is a condition where the body does not produce enough insulin, or the body does not respond properly to insulin. The body does not attack the cells which produce insulin but instead there are other factors which cause problems with insulin. Around 90% of people with diabetes have type 2.

What causes diabetes?

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes have different causes:

  • Type 1 diabetes is caused by the body attacking its own insulin-producing cells. However, nobody knows exactly why this occurs. Research shows that it is not associated with diet or exercise.
  • Type 2 diabetes is caused by a complicated mix of genetic and lifestyle factors.
  • New research in 2018 suggests there are up to 5 types of diabetes, however using these 5 types is not currently common practice.

Factors increasing the risk of Type 2 Diabetes:

  1. A family history of diabetes
  2. Older age
  3. Being overweight/obese (a high BMI)
  4. A lack of physical activity
  5. Poor dietary choices

Both a family history of diabetes and older age are risk factors that unfortunately you cannot control. However, the others can be managed and behaviours changed. Obesity may increase the likelihood of developing diabetes by a factor of 80 to 100 times!

Current research suggest this may be because fat cells release chemicals which, in large quantities, make these cells less responsive to insulin, which means the body retains more sugar in the blood stream, as the insulin is not able to move the sugar into cells from the blood stream.

Not only does obesity increase the risk of developing diabetes, it also increases the risk of other long term health problems associated with diabetes, such as heart disease. Therefore, maintaining a healthy weight is extremely important in combatting type 2 diabetes. For further information on Obesity by The Doctor Service click here.

Diabetes symptoms

Diabetes can present in many ways. However, there are some common symptoms, including:

  • Feeling very thirsty
  • Urinating more often
  • Losing weight
  • Feeling tired
  • Frequent thrush infections/itchiness around the penis or vagina
  • Blurred vision
  • Tingling/prickling sensation in the skin

Check out our our next article for more information on diabetes including how to diagnose, treat and even cure diabetes. 

The Doctor Service provides further information on a wide range of illnesses and a variety of effective treatments.

Further information:

Diabetes UK:

Diabetes Research and Wellness Foundation:

BMJ (2017). BMJ Best Practice. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Jan. 2018].

Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation. (2017). Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Jan. 2018].

Diabetes UK. (2017). Diabetes UK – Know diabetes. Fight diabetes.. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Jan. 2018].

Kumar, P. and Clark, M. (2017). Kumar & Clark’s clinical medicine. 9th ed. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Lazar, M. (2005). How Obesity Causes Diabetes: Not a Tall Tale. Science, 307(5708), pp.373-375.

Leong, K. and Wilding, J. (1999). Obesity and diabetes. Best Practice & Research Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 13(2).

Lim, E., Hollingsworth, K., Aribisala, B., Chen, M., Mathers, J. and Taylor, R. (2011). Reversal of type 2 diabetes: normalisation of beta cell function in association with decreased pancreas and liver triacylglycerol. Diabetologia, 54(10), pp.2506-2514.

NICE (2018). Diabetes | Guidance and guideline topic | NICE. [online] Available at:–nutritional-and-metabolic-conditions/diabetes [Accessed 6 Jan. 2018].

Petersen, K., Dufour, S., Befroy, D., Lehrke, M., Hendler, R. and Shulman, G. (2005). Reversal of Nonalcoholic Hepatic Steatosis, Hepatic Insulin Resistance, and Hyperglycemia by Moderate Weight Reduction in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes, 54(3), pp.603-608.

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