Diabetes. Everyone has heard of it and probably knows someone affected by it. That’s because its burden on society is so huge. In total, the condition affects over 415 million people globally.
In England, 3.8 million people are living with the disease, with the number expected to rise to 4.9 million by 2035. The rising prevalence of diabetes is increasing the burden of ill health in the UK and is creating massive financial burdens, too. About £10 billion of the NHS budget is spent on diabetes (that’s 10% of the NHS budget).
So what exactly is diabetes? Why has this disease become so prevalent? And who is at risk? Let's take a deeper look into this all-too-common condition.
Types of diabetes
Before we can answer such questions, we must first cover some basics.
There are two major types of diabetes mellitus (DM): type 1 and type 2. People with diabetes either can’t produce insulin (type 1 diabetes) or their body has too little insulin or cannot use insulin effectively (type 2 diabetes). There is also a form of diabetes that occurs in women during pregnancy, but this is less common and goes away after birth. However, it can be an indicator for type 2 diabetes later in life.
A little organ called the pancreas, tucked neatly next to the liver, produces insulin. In type 1 diabetes, the body's immune system destroys the pancreatic cells that release insulin. Without insulin, cells cannot absorb sugar from the food you eat, which they need to produce energy.
"Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are serious. There is no such thing as mild diabetes."
Type 2 diabetes can develop at any age. It most commonly occurs in adulthood, but is also on the rise in children. According to Chris Askew, Chief Executive of Diabetes UK, more than 12 million people across the UK are at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
In type 2 diabetes, the body isn't able to use insulin the right way. This is called insulin resistance. As type 2 diabetes gets worse, the pancreas makes less and less insulin, resulting in something called “insulin deficiency”.
According to Diabetes UK, Type 2 diabetes accounts for around 90% of cases of the condition, while type 1 accounts for the remaining 10%. There are also other rarer types of diabetes, such as monogenic diabetes and gestational diabetes (GDM).
Diabetes risk factors
Type 2 diabetes is far more common than type 1. Some of the risk factors for type 2 diabetes (like age, sex, ethnicity, family history) can’t be avoided. These types of risk factors are referred to as “non-modifiable”.
Other risk factors like smoking, blood pressure, and body weight can be addressed. These risks are referred to as “modifiable". So when it comes to preventing type 2 diabetes it is these modifiable risk factors that can be changed.
The likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes is substantially increased by being overweight. An estimated 62% of adults in England are overweight or obese. But the good news is you can substantially reduce your risk by eating healthily, maintaining a healthy weight and regularly exercising.
People with diabetes are at a greater risk of chronic health conditions including cardiovascular disease, problems with your sight, circulatory and limb problems, kidney disease and depression than people without diabetes. Diabetes UK recommends a list of health essentials that should be checked annually to help you manage these risks.
Diabetes UK has a great online risk calculator that helps assess your risk of diabetes based on a few key questions related to age, ethnicity, weight, height, and family history.
Treatment and prevention
When it comes to treatment, people with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin to control their blood sugar levels, as their pancreas no longer produces its own insulin.
For those with type 2 diabetes, you may initially be able to manage your disease with diet and exercise, but overtime you might need medications to help manage your blood sugar levels.
Effective management of blood glucose levels is a key element in managing diabetes, and ensuring that you always have a supply of your diabetes medications is a major part of this.
If you’re living with diabetes and you have to regularly go to the pharmacy to get your diabetes medications, you can now also use Echo to get your meds delivered to your door, for free!
And if you take insulin, Echo uses a specialised system to get it from the pharmacy to you at a stable temperature within 24 hours.
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