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What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition that occurs when the body can’t use glucose (a type of sugar) normally. Glucose is the main source of energy for the body’s cells. The levels of glucose in the blood are controlled by a hormone called insulin, which is made by the pancreas. Insulin helps glucose to enter the cells.

Diabetes is caused when there is resistance to, or deficient production of insulin, which helps glucose move from the blood into the body’s cells. When the body does not produce or use enough insulin, the cells cannot use the glucose for energy and the blood glucose level rises. This means that the body will instead start to break down its own fat and muscle for energy.1

Globally, there has been a dramatic increase in the prevalence of diabetes. It is estimated that if the current world wide trend prevails, there will be 380 million people affected by diabetes by the year 2025.2 Even though diabetes affects nearly 4% of the world’s population,3 many people know very little about the disease.

There are 2 primary types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes occurs when your immune system destroys the beta cells in the pancreas that create insulin. As a result, the body makes very little or no insulin of its own. People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin daily. Type 1 diabetes is sometimes called juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes.

  • Type 2 diabetes ccurs when the pancreas does not make enough insulin, or the body cannot properly use the insulin it does create. Eventually, the pancreas may stop producing insulin altogether. Type 2 diabetes can affect people at any age. In both men and women, the more overweight an individual is, the greater the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.4

1 Department of Health and Ageing-What is diabetes? http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/pq-diabetes-what
2 International Diabetes Federation. Did you know? Available at: http://www.idf.org/home/index.cfm?node=264. Accessed October 16, 2008.
3 US Census Bureau. World Population Clock Projection. Available at: http://www.census.gov/ipc/www/popclockworld.html. Accessed October 16, 2008. Estimated world population is 6.8 billion.
4 International Diabetes Federation. Fact Sheet Diabetes and Obesity. Available at: http://www.idf.org/home/index.cfm?node=1207. Accessed November 13, 2008.

A hormone produced in the beta cells in the pancreas. The body uses insulin to let glucose enter cells, where it is used for energy.

Now known as type 1 diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas produces no insulin or extremely small amounts. People with type 1 need to take insulin injections in order to live.

Now known as type 1 diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas produces no insulin or extremely small amounts. People with type 1 need to take insulin injections in order to live.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes - children hugging

Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children or young adults, although it can occur at any age. Roughly 3% of children and adolescents have diabetes.

The onset of type 1 diabetes is often sudden and can include the following symptoms:

  • Abnormal thirst and a dry mouth
  • Frequent urination
  • Extreme tiredness/lack of energy
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Slow-healing wounds
  • Recurrent infections
  • Blurred vision

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body’s immune system destroys the beta cells found in the pancreas—the cells that create insulin. As a result, the body makes very little or no insulin of its own.

A person with type 1 diabetes supplies their body with insulin in one of the following ways:

  • Insulin pump
  • Insulin pen
  • Injections with a syringe

Insulin therapy along with following a healthy meal-plan, regular physical activity and frequent blood glucose testing are important in the management of type 1 diabetes.

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National diabetes fact sheet, 2007. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pubs/pdf/ndfs_2007.pdf. Accessed October 16, 2008.

The islet cells in the pancreas that secrete insulin.

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