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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Overview of diabetes

Tirohanga whānui ki te matehuka

Diabetes, sometimes called diabetes mellitus, is a disease that causes high glucose (a kind of sugar) in your blood. If you get diabetes, you have it all your life.

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, which is 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 cannot use insulin properly.

Some women get diabetes while they're pregnant (gestational diabetes).

High blood glucose can make you thirsty and need to wee (pass urine) more often. Some people with type 2 diabetes have no symptoms. Long term, having diabetes can lead to problems in several parts of your body, including your 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 glucose into our cells, and what happens when you have diabetes.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed November 2022.

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