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What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease characterized by abnormally high levels of sugar in the blood. There are two main forms: type 1 (usually developing suddenly before the age of 40 years and requiring insulin injections) and type 2 (frequently linked with metabolic syndrome). Diabetes can also develop during pregnancy (known as gestational diabetes) or as a consequence of another disease, such as pancreatic disease.

Around 85% of people with diabetes have the type 2 form. In the past, this affected predominately older adults, but with the rising problem of childhood obesity it is increasingly seen in children and adolescents too.

Sustained high blood sugar levels in diabetes can cause serious long-term complications that affect your kidneys, eyes and nervous system. These are known as microvascular complications of diabetes.

If you have type 2 diabetes you are also likely to be overweight or obese, have high blood pressure and an abnormal blood cholesterol profile comprising too little 'good' high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and too much 'bad' cholesterol known as triglycerides. These features are known collectively as the 'metabolic syndrome'. Diabetes and the metabolic syndrome put you at increased risk of macrovascular complications namely heart disease, angina, stroke and peripheral arterial disease.

Foot ulcers are common in diabetes due to high blood sugar levels and poor blood supply to the foot. Nerve damage from diabetes means that the ulcers sometimes go unnoticed, and since diabetes also impairs wound healing, foot ulcers can remain for a long time and may become infected.

Finally, diabetic ketoacidosis is a complication primarily of type 1 diabetes although it can occur in type 2 diabetes. It is life threatening and occurs when insulin levels are too low and the body begins to use stored fats for energy, which results in the production of acidic ketones. These metabolic by-products cause dehydration, confusion, rapid breathing, vomiting and sometimes coma. Diabetic ketoacidosis can be triggered by illness or injury, or forgetting to take your insulin therapy.

For more information on this subject please click on the following links:

How common is diabetes?
What causes diabetes?
What are the symptoms and signs of diabetes?
How is diabetes diagnosed?
How is diabetes treated?
Lifestyle interventions
Medical treatments
Nutritional support

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