What is diabetes?


Diabetes is a life-long metabolic disorder in which blood glucose is raised. Poorly controlled diabetes causes both short-term and long-term complications which are listed in ‘Role of Diabetes Nurse Specialist’ on pxxx.

How diabetes develops

Glucose is the main source of energy of the body and is released as we digest food. Insulin, a hormone which is produced in the pancreas, helps glucose to enter into the cells, where it is metabolized to produce energy. Insulin is like a key unlocking the cell so glucose can enter


In diabetes the pancreas produces insufficient insulin or the available insulin is not able to act on the cells (insulin resistance). So, instead of being used to produce energy, glucose accumulates in the blood causing high blood sugar (hyperglycemia); some might spill into the urine causing diabetic symptoms such as thirst or frequent urination. However many people with diabetes initially have no symptoms, or mild symptoms, and do not seek medical help until serious complications occur. It is very important for diabetes to be diagnosed as early as possible because it will get progressively worse if left untreated.


There are 3 types of diabetes:

Type 1 develops when the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas have been destroyed and the body is unable to produce any insulin. This can develop at any age but usually appears before the age of 40 years, and especially in childhood. About 10% of people with diabetes have type 1.

In type 1 diabetes there is no key (insulin) to unlock the cell so no glucose cannot enter, and builds up in the blood


Type 2 is the most common type of diabetes and occurs which occurs when the body becomes resistant to insulin (insulin resistance) or the pancreas does not make enough insulin.

In type 2 diabetes the key (insulin) or the lock on the cell does not work properly so glucose builds up in the blood.


The modifiable risk factors for type 2 diabetes are: obesity, especially abdominal obesity; and sedentary life style.


Gestational diabetes - in pregnancy, various hormones increase insulin resistance and in some women glucose level rises to diabetic levels. Gestational diabetes increases the risk to:

  • The mother of complications such as urinary infection, and hypertension; and
  • The baby of being born large-for-gestational age causing difficulties at the time of delivery, and of developing diabetes and obesity later.

Gestational diabetes usually disappears after pregnancy but mother and child are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later.

Further reading

What is diabetes? Diabetes UK https://www.diabetes.org.uk/Guide-to-diabetes/What-is-diabetes/

Diabetes. World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/entity/diabetes/en/