Diabetes – what is it and how can I help?

Type 1 diabetes accounts for about 10% of all adults with diabetes and is the most common type of diabetes in childhood. It can occur in adults aged 40 + as a result of an auto immune response. This can occur with people who are physically fit and/or not overweight. No-one knows why this happens, but it is theorised that a virus or other infection triggers the auto-immune response and alters the pancreas’ ability to produce insulin….

With the body unable to produce insulin, which is a hormone used to convert glucose in your blood into energy glucose builds up in the blood and your body needs to find another source of energy, breaking down fat and protein instead. This can result in weight loss. Because the body is not using the glucose, it tries to reduce it by flushing the excess out of the body in the urine. Due to this coming out as fluid, you can become thirsty.

The signs to watch out for are:
Weight loss
Frequent urination (more than usual and particularly at night)
Excessive thirst
Feeling more tired than usual
Blurred vision
Wounds taking longer than usual to heal
Genital itching or thrush

If you recognise any of these symptoms, it is worth visiting your GP – it may not be diabetes but it is better to be sure. Early diagnosis, treatment and management is essential for long term good health. This form of diabetes will be treated with medication.

Type 2 diabetes appears mostly in adults over the age of 40 although South Asian people are at greater risk and diabetes often appears from the age of 25. This is usually as a result of a series of problems.
Firstly, insulin resistance occurs when the chemical processes to transport blood glucose to muscle cells do not work effectively and only small amounts of glucose pass into the muscle cells. This occurs even if the body produces large amounts of insulin resulting in glucose building up in your bloodstream.
Secondly, the pancreas may not be producing sufficient insulin in order to transport blood glucose into muscle cells.

The signs of type 2 diabetes are the same as type 1, listed above and can be treated by lifestyle changes (change of diet, more exercise and so on) and possibly coupled with medication.

Treatment of a hypoglycaemic episode – very low blood glucose

This means the glucose in your blood is too low and cannot produce enough energy for your body’s activities. These can come on rapidly and the most common symptoms include feeling shaky, sweating, appearing drunk, slurring words, confusion, hunger, tiredness, personality changes (irritable and angry), pale skin and feeling tearful and emotional.

As long as that person is conscious, treat them immediately by giving them a fast acting carbohydrate such as glucose tablets, non-diet fizzy drink, pure fruit juice, glucose gel or sweets such as jelly babies. Any emergency treatment to reverse a hypo may need to be followed up with a slower acting carbohydrate food to prevent this happening again – something like a sandwich, cereal or piece of fruit.

Try not to treat a hype with chocolate or other high fat food as the fat delays absorption of the glucose, hence delaying the treatment required.

If the person is unconscious you need to call for emergency help.

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