What is diabetes?


  • There are over 2.3 million people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK
  • 300 people are diagnosed with diabetes every day in the UK
  • More than 500,000 people in the UK have diabetes but don't know it
  • The number of people diagnosed with diabetes is predicted to grow to more than 2.5 million by 2010 - 9% of which will be due to an increase in obesity
  • More than 80 per cent of people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes are overweight
  • It is estimated that by 2025 there will be more than four million people with diabetes in the UK, an increase of 46%
  • Around 5 per cent of total NHS spend (and up to 10 per cent of hospital in-patient spend) is used for the care of people with diabetes. The cost to the NHS of treating diabetes is £5 billion a year. The cost of tablets for people with diabetes in England is around £130 million.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus is a condition in which the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood is too high because the body cannot use it properly. Glucose comes from the digestion of starchy foods such as bread, rice, potatoes, chapatis, yams and plantain, from sugar and other sweet foods, and from the liver which makes glucose.

Insulin is vital for life. It is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps the glucose to enter the cells where it is used as fuel by the body. Without insulin, the glucose remains in the blood stream, and in high concentration can lead to serious long term complications.

Diabetes types

There are two main types of diabetes. These are:

  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Type 2 diabetes

Type 1 Diabetes

  • Type 1 diabetes develops when the insulin producing cells in the pancreas have been destroyed, and the body is unable to produce any insulin.
  • Type 1 diabetes can develop at any time, but it is most common in childhood and people under the age of 40.
  • The cause of Type 1 diabetes is still unknown, but the most likely reason is the body having an abnormal reaction to the cells. This may be triggered by a viral or other infection.
  • In Type 1 diabetes the signs and symptoms will usually be very obvious, developing quickly, usually over a few weeks.
  • Type 1 diabetes is the least common of the two main types and accounts for between 5 - 15% of all people with diabetes.
  • People with type 1 diabetes usually treat the condition with insulin injections.

Type 2 Diabetes

  • Type 2 diabetes develops when the body does not make enough insulin, or when the insulin that is produced does not work properly (known as insulin resistance)
  • Type 2 diabetes usually appears in the middle-aged or older people, although it is known to affect Black and South Asian people at a younger age
  • There is increasing concern that more children are being diagnosed with the condition, some as young as seven. This is related to poor diet and lack of exercise.
  • Several factors may render some people more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. White people over 40 and Black or Asian people over 25 who have one or more of these risk factors maybe at risk of developing diabetes
  • The risk factors include:
    - having a close family member who has diabetes
    - being overweight or having a waist of 31.5 inches or over for women; 35 inches or over for Asian men and 37 inches or over for white and black men
    - having high blood pressure, suffering a heart attack or a stroke
    - severe mental health problems
    Diabetes UK recommends that people with two or more of these risk factors should seek medical advice.
  • Type 2 diabetes is the most common of the two main types and accounts for between 85 - 95% of all people with diabetes
  • Some people with type 2 diabetes are able to control their condition by leading a healthy lifestyle, eating well and exercising, while others may also need to take medication, and in the later stages, some may require insulin injections.

The effects of diabetes (complications)

People with diabetes have a higher risk of developing diabetes-related complications, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, circulation problems, nerve damage and damages to the kidneys and eyes.

  • Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in people of working age in the UK
    - Nearly all those with type 1 diabetes experience minor retinal damage
    - Nearly 60% of those with type 2 diabetes experience retinal damage
  • People who have diabetes are:
    - Four times as likely to develop heart disease and three times as likely to have a heart attack
    - Up to four times as likely to have a stroke
    - Three times as likely to develop total kidney failure
  • Diabetes is the cause of 100 lower limb amputations in the UK each week

Effective treatment can reduce diabetes complication by up to 50%.