The prevalence of diabetes in the UK has dramatically increased in recent years, with one in ten people over 40 having type 2 diabetes, and the number of people living with any type of diabetes in the UK reaching 4.7 million. With more people in the UK living with diabetes, and many knowing someone who is affected, it’s important to understand the different types and what risk factors to look out for.
Diabetes is a condition where blood glucose levels are too high. This is either due to the body not producing enough insulin (the hormone that is needed to take glucose out of the blood and into our cells to be used for energy) or because the insulin produced isn’t effective.
If left untreated, diabetes can progress and increase the likelihood of heart and circulatory conditions. The British Heart Foundation – our charity partner of the year – provide research and support into heart and circulatory conditions and their risk factors, so to mark Diabetes Awareness Month and in conjunction with the British Heart Foundation, we have written a simple article to explore the different types of diabetes, including the most common types and what causes them.
What are the types of diabetes?
There are many types of diabetes, with some being more common than others. The most common types of diabetes are:
- Type 1 – This happens when your body cannot make insulin because your body’s immune system attacks the cells that produce insulin in the pancreas.
- Type 2 – This happens when your pancreas isn’t making enough insulin or the insulin made can’t work effectively, and is much more common than type 1
- Gestational diabetes – This type of diabetes can develop during pregnancy and happens because the hormones produced during pregnancy can mean it is harder for the body to use insulin properly and some women are unable to produce enough to overcome this
However, there are additional types of diabetes which, whilst they may be rare, are just as important. According to Diabetes UK, approximately 2% of people live with these additional types, and they include:
- Steroid-induced diabetes
- Drug induced diabetes
Type 2 diabetes and its risk factors
Around 90% of people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK have type 2 diabetes. There are risk factors which make you more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, some of which can be influenced by lifestyle, such as regular exercise and diet. However, some risk factors are influences outside of your control. The following are the most commonly recognised risk factors for type 2 diabetes:
- Overweight or obesity– especially if you carry your extra weight is around your middle where vital organs are held.
- Ethnicity – some ethnic groups have a much higher rate of diabetes, including people of South Asian, Black African, or Caribbean descent.
- Genetics – some families are genetically more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
- Physical inactivity and sedentary behaviour.
- High blood pressure.
- Age – diabetes can develop at any age, but generally, it affects more adults over the age of 40.
Causes of type 2 diabetes
Insulin is a very important hormone which allows glucose to enter our cells and fuel our bodies – and we all need it to live. When you have type 2 diabetes, your body still breaks down the carbohydrates in your food and drink and turns it into glucose. Although your pancreas still produces insulin in response to this because it can’t work properly, your blood sugar levels continue rising. This process means more insulin is released and for some people, this can tire the pancreas out, causing the body to produce less insulin over time. This can lead to even higher blood sugar levels and puts the person at risk of hyperglycaemia – which is where blood sugar levels are higher than normal. As blood glucose levels increase symptoms people can experience include needing to pass urine more often, especially in the night, being very thirsty, feeling tired and lethargic and having recurring infections like thrush or bladder or skin infections.
Around 90% of those living with diabetes in the UK have type 2; if it is left untreated, the continuous high blood sugar levels can cause damage to parts of your body, including your eyes, heart, kidneys, nerves and feet.
Causes of type 1 diabetes
One in 10 people with diabetes are type 1, which is where your blood sugar level is too high because your body can’t make insulin. Our immune system is built to protect us against infection and illness, however in those who are affected by type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that make the insulin.
The body still breaks down carbohydrates from food and drink and turns it into glucose but when the glucose enters the bloodstream, it needs insulin in order to be absorbed into cells. This then leads to glucose building up in your bloodstream and causing high blood sugar levels.
The causes of type 1 diabetes are still unclear, unlike type 2, the condition cannot be brought on by lifestyle or diet, but the following are being researched as possible factors:
- Viral infection
- Gut microbiome
Steroid Induced Diabetes
Steroid-induced diabetes is more common in people who are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Steroids can increase your blood sugar levels by causing the liver to release more glucose. They can then stop glucose being absorbed from blood to be used in cells and reduce the body’s sensitivity to insulin.
Many people find that their blood sugar levels return to a healthy range when they stop taking steroids, but others can continue to experience steroid-induced diabetes after their treatment has ended – this is more likely if you are more at risk of type 2 diabetes.
Drug Induced Diabetes
Alongside steroid-induced diabetes, other medications can also have the side effect of raising blood sugar levels, including:
- Thiazide diuretics are used to reduce high blood pressure or to help remove excess water from the body. Taking thiazide diuretics can cause increased blood sugar levels, increasing the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Beta-blockers work by blocking the release of adrenaline and noradrenaline which helps to reduce blood pressure and reduce heart rate. They are used to treat conditions such as angina, heart disease, hypertension and anxiety. Beta-blockers can reduce the body’s sensitivity to insulin, which can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Antipsychotics are used to treat mental health conditions such as schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis. Taking antipsychotics can produce side effects of weight gain and high blood sugar levels.
- Statins are cholesterol lowering medications, there have been some studies to show that they can increase the risk of having higher blood sugar levels.
Often, if the medications are discontinued, the diabetes can be reversed meaning the blood glucose levels return to normal, but some people can continue to be affected by type 2 diabetes. Drug-induced and steroid-induced diabetes are forms of secondary diabetes, which means they have occurred as a result of having another condition.
Living well with diabetes
If you have diabetes, it’s important to control your blood glucose levels, as well as your blood pressure and cholesterol levels in order to manage your condition and reduce your risk of developing heart and circulatory conditions. You can often manage type 2 diabetes very successfully with commitment to lifestyle changes and medicines, and if you are overweight and have type 2 diabetes changing your diet can help you to reduce your weight. A five percent reduction in body weight can improve your blood sugar levels and a recent study found that almost nine out of 10 people were able to put their type 2 diabetes into remission with a weight loss of 15kg, meaning that they no longer need medication.
There is no such thing as a special diet to fix type 2 diabetes, nor are there foods you should cut out or avoid. When it comes to eating for type 2 diabetes, it’s more important to consume a healthy, balanced diet, rich in nutritional value. Alongside your diet, an active lifestyle with regular exercise is extremely beneficial to living well with diabetes. Regular exercise can help you to maintain a healthy weight and reduce your risk of heart and circulatory diseases. Eating healthily and committing to a more active lifestyle can help you to achieve and maintain long-term weight loss can also lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels and improve your blood glucose levels.
Some people are able to manage their diabetes simply with changes to their diet and lifestyle while others will also need to be prescribed medication by their GP or a hospital diabetes team. Making sure you understand what medication you should take, how much and when is also an important part of living well with diabetes. Talk to the health professionals supporting you with your diabetes management if there is anything you do not understand.
Whether you have been recently diagnosed with type 2 or you have been living with type 1 for many years, we understand that managing diabetes and maintaining a healthy wellbeing can feel intimidating. From support with everyday tasks such as personal care and shopping, to helping you maintain a healthy lifestyle by monitoring your diet and getting regular exercise, we can help you to live well with diabetes.
Here at Helping Hands, we also have a clinical nurse team who oversee all clinical training to ensure that our customers with complex needs receive the best possible care. So, if you’re living with diabetes, you can rest assured that with Helping Hands, you’re in safe hands.
For more information, please feel free to email or simply request a callback so that we can call you at a suitable time.
Page reviewed by British Heart Foundation, on November 15, 2021