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Diabetes

An insulin syringe with an orange lid
An insulin syringe

Diabetes is when your body can't use glucose (sugar) properly. It is all to do with the hormone insulin. There are two main types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 occurs in younger people and the basic problem is in the amount of insulin that is made by an organ called your pancreas.
  • Type 2 occurs in older people when they make less insulin and what is around is less effective.

How often does it occur?

About 1.4 million people in the UK (about 2-3 in every 1000 teenagers) are diabetic. Boys and girls get it about equally and it tends to run in families.

Why do people get it?

No one is sure exactly why young people get diabetes but it does seem to run in families. But...but...you can't 'catch it' from another person with diabetes.

How do you know when you have got it?

You feel tired, thirsty, and you pee a lot. You also lose weight. If it's not treated you can get really ill and become unconscious. If you start to have these problems, the doctor can test your blood or pee for sugar.

Can it be cured?

No, there is no cure at the moment, although there is lots of research going on to see if it can be cured. Type 1 diabetes is treated by giving yourself injections of insulin every day.

Is it dangerous and can you die from it?

Yes, it can be dangerous and you can die from it, if you don't get treated, or use the treatment properly. However with modern methods of treatment very, very few people do actually die from it when they are young.

What is the treatment?

Diabetes in young people is treated with injections of insulin. Insulin regulates the amount of sugar in your blood, by pushing the right amount of sugar in your blood into the cells of your body. How often these injections have to be given varies from once a day to several times a day in different people.

If you have treatment what are the problems that can occur?

If you give yourself an injection of too much insulin then the sugar in your blood falls too low and you can become unconscious - this is called a "hypo" (short for hypoglycaemic). Luckily people who are becoming "hypo" often start to feel a bit wobbly and sweaty before they become unconscious so that they can quickly eat some sugary things. Another problem is when diabetics eat too much sugar compared with the insulin they are taking. Then the blood sugar becomes too high, and this also makes the person ill.

Does it cause any damage when you are older?

It can do. However the nearer you can keep your blood sugar to within normal limits (by having the correct amount of insulin compared with what you eat) the less likely you are to get any of this damage.

Is it easy to keep one's blood sugar normal?

On the whole 'yes'. However it is often more difficult to keep your blood sugar under control during the teenage years, because your hormones seem have an effect on how well the insulin works and how your body reacts to it.

Can I lead a normal life if I have diabetes?

Yes, yes, yes. If you give yourself your injections at the right time, and be moderately careful as to how you eat - you can do almost everything you want to: play sports, swim, go to parties, drink a reasonable amount of alcohol etc, etc.