Diabetes is a chronic, potentially debilitating and often fatal disease. The disease occurs as a result of problems with the production and supply of insulin in the body. Either the body produces no or insufficient insulin (type 1 diabetes), or the body cannot use the insulin it produces effectively (type 2 diabetes). Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that helps ‘sugar’ (glucose) to leave the blood and enter the cells of the body to be used as ‘fuel’.
There are two main types of diabetes:
Diabetes is sometimes called insulin-dependent, immune-mediated or juvenile-onset diabetes. It is caused by an auto-immune reaction where the body’s defence system attacks the insulin-producing cells. The reason why this occurs is not fully understood. People with type 1 diabetes produce very little or no insulin. The disease can affect people of any age, but usually occurs in children or young adults. People with this form of diabetes need injections of insulin every day in order to control the levels of glucose in their blood. If people with type 1 diabetes do not have access to insulin, they die.
Diabetes is sometimes called non-insulin dependent diabetes or adult-onset diabetes. People with type 2 diabetes do not usually require injections of insulin. Usually, they can control the glucose in their blood by watching their diet, taking regular exercise, oral medication, and possibly insulin. Type 2 diabetes is most common in people older than 45 who are overweight. However, as a consequence of increased obesity among the young, it is becoming more common in children and young adults. Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes and accounts for 90-95% of all diabetes. If people with type 2 diabetes are not diagnosed and treated, they can develop serious complications, which can result in an early death. Worldwide, many millions of people have type 2 diabetes without even knowing it. Others do not have access to adequate medical care. The onset of type 2 diabetes is also linked to genetic factors but obesity, physical inactivity and unhealthy diet increase the risks.
Some women develop a third, usually temporary, type of diabetes called ‘Gestational Diabetes’ when they are pregnant. Gestational diabetes develops in 2-5% of all pregnancies, but usually disappears when the pregnancy is over. Women who have had gestational diabetes have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later on.
Impaired Glucose Tolerance (IGT)
People with impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) have glucose levels that are above normal but below the level at which diabetes is diagnosed. People with IGT have a significant risk of developing type 2 diabetes. They are thus an important target group for primary prevention. Changes in lifestyle, including diet and physical activity can greatly reduce the onset of diabetes.