Print this topic

HealthInfo Canterbury

Overview of diabetes

Diabetes, sometimes called diabetes mellitus, is a lifelong disease that causes high glucose (sugar) in your blood.

When you eat foods containing carbohydrates (such as bread, cereal, fruit, and some vegetables), your body turns them into glucose. Your body needs insulin to move glucose out of your blood and into your muscle and fat cells.

Insulin is a hormone you make in your pancreas – a gland right below your stomach.

You get type 1 diabetes if your body doesn't make enough insulin.

You get type 2 diabetes if your body can't use insulin properly.

Gestational diabetes occurs in some women, when they get diabetes while they are pregnant.

You can get symptoms from high blood glucose such as thirst, and passing more urine. Some people with type 2 diabetes have no symptoms. Long‑term, having diabetes can lead to problems in several parts of your body, including eyes and feet.

A blood test called HbA1c is the commonest way to diagnose diabetes.

Eating well and being physically active are important in preventing and treating diabetes. See Self‑care for diabetes for more information about preventing and treating diabetes.

The video at the top of the page from Diabetes UK explains how insulin works to move sugar into our cells, and what happens when you have diabetes.

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed July 2019.

Page reference: 212564

Review key: HIDIA-21832