Diabetes, or diabetes mellitus, is a general term for a group of diseases that are characterised by how the body processes glucose, also known as blood sugar. The three most common types of diabetes, that affect almost one million New Zealanders, are Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes.
What causes diabetes?
Diabetes is caused when there is too much glucose (sugar) in your bloodstream. What causes each type of diabetes varies. Type 1 diabetes, which used to be called insulin-dependent diabetes, occurs when the pancreas doesn't make enough insulin the substance that helps your body process glucose. Type 2 diabetes, which used to be called non-insulin-dependent diabetes, occurs when your body is resistant to insulin and the pancreas can't make enough insulin to compensate for the resistance. Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy. The placenta, which nourishes the growing baby, produces hormones that make your body somewhat resistant to insulin. When your pancreas can't make enough insulin to compensate for the resistance caused by those hormones, the result is gestational diabetes.
Is diabetes serious?
Diabetes can be a silent disease. Many people don't even know they have it until symptoms have become pronounced. Left untreated, or if not properly controlled, diabetes can result in blindness, kidney failure, lower limb amputation, heart attack, stroke, and impotence.
Can I prevent diabetes?
There is no way to prevent Type 1 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is a lifestyle disease, being more common in people who are overweight, have high blood pressure and do little exercise. The best way to prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes is by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight. Symptoms of Type 2 diabetes often disappear by sticking to a healthy regime.
Gestational diabetes usually appears in the 24-28th weeks during pregnancy and disappears again after pregnancy. Women who suffer gestational diabetes with one pregnancy are more prone to it in subsequent pregnancies and are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
How do I know if my child has diabetes?
In general, Type 1 diabetes emerges during childhood. Type 2 diabetes can happen at any age. Most kids with diabetes display some or all of the following symptoms:
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Extreme hunger
- Unexplained weight loss
- Blurred vision
- Slow-healing sores
- Frequent infections, such as gum or skin infections and vaginal or bladder infections
How do I treat diabetes?
The best treatment for diabetes is prevention. For Type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes it's important to eat right, exercise regularly, and maintain a healthy weight, although sufferers may require additional medication. Type 1 diabetics almost always require insulin infections. Diabetics will also have to regularly monitor their blood glucose levels. In a few cases of Type 1 diabetes, the individual may need a pancreatic transplant.
Should I call the doctor?
Always schedule an appointment with your doctor if your child displays any of the above symptoms. If your child is already being treated for diabetes and continues to have high blood glucose readings, call your doctor for advice.
What you need to know about diabetes
- Diabetes is a disease in which the glucose (sugar) levels in the blood are too high.
- Diabetes is caused when the pancreas can't make enough insulin to process blood sugar.
- Type 1 diabetes usually occurs during childhood.
- Type 2 diabetes can happen at any age and is usually associated with lifestyle.
- Gestational diabetes is usually temporary.
- Some types of diabetes can be treated and managed with diet, exercise and medications.
Find more relevant articles and information about diabetes
- Read more about the gestational diabetes and the glucose screening test
- Learn more about snacks and drinks for toddlers
- Find out more about healthy snack ideas
- Find out more more about the food pyramid
Written by Rebecca Stigall for Kidspot, New Zealand's parenting resource for family health. Sources include Better Health Channel, NSW Health and Health Insite.
Last revised: Wednesday, 20 January 2010
This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.