Understanding diabetes

Diabetes is a common long-term condition that causes the amount of glucose in a person’s blood (known as the blood sugar level) to become too high. This is because the pancreas does not produce enough of the hormone insulin, which moves glucose from the blood into the body’s cells, where it is broken down to produce energy.

Glucose comes from digesting the carbohydrate in starchy foods such as bread, potatoes and chapatis, fruit, some dairy products, sugar and other sweet foods.

There are two main types of diabetes. In type 1 (also known as insulin-dependent diabetes or early-onset diabetes), the body’s immune system destroys the cells that produce insulin. People with type 1 diabetes therefore need insulin injections for the rest of their lives. About 10% of all people with diabetes have type 1.

Type 2 (also known as obesity-related or maturity-onset diabetes) is where the body does not produce enough insulin, or the body's cells do not react to insulin. This is known as insulin resistance. The symptoms of type 2 diabetes can sometimes be controlled by exercise and eating a healthy diet and monitoring blood glucose levels, but if the condition gets worse over time, it may need to be managed by medication.

Diabetes in the UK
  • There are an estimated 4.5 million people living with diabetes in the UK, this includes 1 million people with type 2 diabetes who don't know they have it because they haven't been diagnosed
  • The number of people with diabetes is expected to rise to 5 million by 2025
  • When diabetes is not well managed, it can be associated with serious complications including heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney disease and amputations
  • One is seven hospital beds is occupied by someone who has diabetes
  • The total cost of diabetes was estimated to be £23.7 billion and is predicted to rise to £39.8 billion by 2035/36.



This page is intended for members of the UK public
UK/WB/0713/0013(4) August 2017

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