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Diabetes is a long-term condition where blood glucose levels (sugar levels) become too high because the body either produces little or no insulin, or cannot use insulin properly.

The main symptoms are:

  • feeling very thirsty
  • urinating frequently, particularly at night
  • feeling very tired
  • weight loss and loss of muscle bulk.

The amount of sugar in the blood is usually controlled by a hormone called 'insulin' which is produced by the pancreas (a gland behind the stomach).

In type 1 diabetes, the body's immune system attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin, and usually develops before the age of 40. It is less common than type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is where the body does not produce enough insulin, or the body's cells do not react to insulin. It is often associated with obesity and is more common in older people.

During pregnancy, some women have such high levels of blood glucose their body is unable to produce enough insulin to absorb it all. This is known as 'gestational diabetes'.

Diabetes Australia provides more information on diabetes on their website, or by calling their information line on 1300 136 588.

Sources: Diabetes Australia (homepage), NHS Choices, UK (Diabetes)

Just diagnosed

Diabetes doesn't have to stop you from leading the life you want, nor does it mean you'll have other serious health problems in the future.

With careful management you can ensure you control the condition and it doesn't control you. You can stay healthy, active and live a full life.

If you are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, you will need insulin injections for the rest of your life. You will also need to pay special attention to certain aspects of your lifestyle and health to ensure your blood glucose levels stay balanced - for example, by eating a healthy diet and carrying out regular blood tests.

If you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, you may be able to control your symptoms simply by eating a healthy diet and monitoring your blood glucose level. However, as type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition, you may eventually need medication, usually in the form of tablets.

Source: NHS Choices, UK (Diabetes)

Living with

Learning to manage your diabetes takes time, patience and effort. You may also be coping with difficult emotions after diagnosis, such as anger, confusion or depression.

In order to stay well, it's important to monitor your blood glucose (sugar) level regularly, and to understand how it is affected by food and exercise. You may also need diabetes medication or insulin to inject to help you keep your blood glucose level stable.

It’s also important to take other steps to help manage the condition and lower your risk of further health problems. This is because both type 1 and type 2 diabetes put you at increased risk of physical problems or conditions such as heart disease and stroke, blindness, nerve damage, foot ulcers, kidney damage, muscle-wasting and damage to ligaments and joints.

On the bright side, there's a lot you can do to minimise your risk of these problems:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet that's low in fat, salt and sugar.
  • Don't smoke.
  • Get active for 30 minutes a day, five times a week.
  • Check your feet every day. The nerve damage that can occur in diabetes most commonly affects feet.
  • Keep your appointments and regular check-ups with your diabetes care team.

Source: NHS Choices, UK (Diabetes, Healthy living with diabetes)

Facts & figures

  • Around 898,000 Australians (4% of the population) had diabetes in 2007-08. This rate had risen from 1.5% in 1989.
  • About 10% of all people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes, and close to 90% have type 2 diabetes.
  • The prevalence of diabetes increases with age.
  • 222,544 people began using insulin to treat their diabetes (2000-09).
  • One in 20 pregnancies are affected by diabetes (44,000 women between 2005 and 2007).
  • Three to one is the proportion of people with diabetes in the Indigenous population compared to the proportion of people with diabetes in the non-Indigenous population.
  • Over half of adults are overweight or obese, which puts them at greater risk for diabetes.
  • Three in five people with diabetes also have cardiovascular disease.
  • $990 million was spent on treating diabetes in 2004–05, which was 1.9% of all health expenditure.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (Diabetes, How common is diabetes?)

Last reviewed: 
February, 2013