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What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects the way the body processes blood sugar known as glucose. For your body to work properly, you need to maintain a healthy level of glucose in your blood.

Glucose is your body’s main source of energy. It comes from the carbohydrate foods you eat, such as bread, pasta, rice, cereals, fruits, starchy vegetables, milk and yoghurt. When you eat these foods, your blood stream carries the glucose around your body, where your cells convert it into energy.

To break down the glucose so it can enter your cells, your body needs insulin, a hormone produced in your pancreas. If you have diabetes, it means your pancreas makes too little insulin, or none at all. The glucose you eat will stay in your blood instead of being turned into energy.

High levels of glucose in your blood can have short- and long-term effects on your body, possibly causing damage to your heart, brain, kidneys, eyes and feet.

Types of diabetes

There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. If you have type 1 diabetes it means your pancreas no longer produces the insulin you need. This means you will need to regularly monitor your blood glucose levels and either inject insulin or use an insulin pump to keep those levels within a healthy range.

Type 1 diabetes is one of the most common chronic childhood conditions in developed nations like Australia. It is often diagnosed in childhood, but can develop at any age.

If you have type 2 diabetes, it means your pancreas is not producing enough insulin or the insulin you are producing is not working effectively. With regular physical activity, a healthy eating plan, and regular health checks, you can manage your diabetes to live well.

Type 2 Diabetes is a progressive condition. Over time you may need medication, and in some cases insulin, to manage your blood glucose levels.

Gestational diabetes is a condition you may develop during pregnancy. It will be diagnosed with a blood test and an oral glucose tolerance test when you are between 24 and 28 weeks pregnant. Gestational diabetes can be managed with diet and exercise, although some women may require medication or insulin until the baby is born.

Gestational diabetes usually disappears after the birth, although it may increase the likelihood that you will develop type 2 diabetes later in life.

You may also have heard of pre-diabetes. If you have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes, it means your blood glucose levels and insulin levels are higher than normal – but not yet high enough for a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. Making lifestyle changes can help slow down the progression of pre-diabetes to type 2 diabetes.

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