Education

About Diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic condition characterised by high blood sugar levels. Consistent imbalanced levels of glucose in the blood can lead to short term and long term health complications. Diabetes occurs when the pancreas cannot produce insulin, when there is not enough insulin, and/or the body is unable to use insulin effectively. While there is currently no cure for diabetes, learning about the condition and ways to effectively manage it, improve the outcomes.

The two main types of diabetes are
Type 1 diabetes & Type 2 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong idiopathic autoimmune disease. It represents around 10% of all cases of diabetes with an onset in childhood or early adolescence. In Type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system destroys the insulin producing cells in the pancreas. It is not linked to modifiable lifestyle factors and is not preventable. Type 1 diabetes is managed with regular insulin injections throughout the day or the use of an insulin pump.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes and is a progressive condition. It usually occurs in adulthood and those who have Type 2 diabetes produce insulin, but do not produce enough, and/or the body becomes resistant to its effects. It is associated with modifiable risk factors but may be linked to genetic predisposition. Lifestyle factors including obesity, poor diet, physical inactivity, and smoking contribute to the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes over time. Therefore, Type 2 diabetes may be managed with a combination of lifestyle changes and medication. The first sign of diabetes for some individuals may be complications of diabetes, for example a heart attack, vision problems or a foot ulcer.

Symptoms

Symptoms of diabetes include but are not limited to:

  • Unusual thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Feeling tired or lethargic
  • Slow healing wounds
  • Blurred vision
  • Headaches
  • Unexplained weigh loss (Type 1)
  • Progressive weight gain (Type 2)
  • Dizziness
  • Leg cramps

Hypoglycaemia

Hypoglycaemia is a condition caused by a drop in blood sugar levels below 4mmol/L. It is regularly referred to as a hypo or low. Hypos need to be treated quickly to avoid serious symptoms including unconsciousness. Hypoglycaemia may occur as a result of one or more of the following:

  • Too much insulin or an imbalance of other glucose lowering diabetes tablets
  • Inadequate carbohydrate intake
  • Delaying or missing a meal
  • Consuming alcohol (the more alcohol you drink, the higher the risk of hypoglycaemia)
  • Unplanned or overly strenuous physical activity (hypos may be delayed for 12 or more hours after exercise)

Symptoms of hypoglycaemia include:

  • Hunger
  • Sweatiness
  • Weakness
  • Paleness
  • Feeling dizzy or light-headed
  • Headache
  • Tingling lips
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Mood changes, including irrational behaviour
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability or nervousness
  • Slurred speech
  • Seizures

Untreated hypoglycaemia may lead to unconsciousness and can be fatal. When severe symptoms occur, phone for an ambulance (dial 000) immediately.

When mild symptoms occur, and blood sugar levels are below 4mmol/L:

STEP 1:

a. Eat 6-7 jellybeans OR
b. Drink half a can of regular soft drink OR
c. Drink half a glass of fruit juice OR
d. Eat 3 teaspoons of sugar or honey

After 15 minutes, re-check blood sugar levels. If there has been an increase above 4mmol/L, eat a snack or meal containing a longer acting carbohydrate. This may include a slice of bread, a glass of milk, a piece of fruit, or pasta. If blood sugar levels remain below 4mmol/L, repeat step 1, and seek medical advice.

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Diabetes and Coeliac Disease

It is estimated that approximately 10% of people with Type 1 diabetes may also have coeliac disease. Coeliac disease may also occur alongside Type 2 diabetes. Coeliac disease is a condition where the immune system reacts abnormally to gluten, a protein found in many common foods including wheat, rye, oats, and barley. This causes damage to the lining of the small intestine resulting in inflammation and sensitivity. Consequently, the bowels’ ability to absorb vital nutrients for the body is reduced, leading to various gastrointestinal symptoms. There is no cure to coeliac disease and people with coeliac disease remain sensitive to gluten throughout their life. A strict gluten free diet helps manage the condition effectively and is the only recognised medical treatment for the disease.

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Disclaimer: This information has been created in general terms and is not a substitute for medical advice or consultations with your healthcare professionals. See your doctor for individual assessment.

Diabetes Educators

Visit the Australian Diabetes Educators Association webpage via the link below to locate your nearest Credentialled Diabetes Educator.

Diabetes Clinics

Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive list and was last updated on 01/05/20