Setting the record straight: Diabetes Awareness Week

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This year, Diabetes Awareness Week is set to take place on the 11th June. It’s an annual event aimed at people coming together and raising awareness of diabetes, as well as sharing their stories. This year’s theme is ‘Setting the record straight’.

According to diabetes.co.uk, there are around 3.5 million people diagnosed with the condition in the UK today. That equates to around 5% of the total population. Worryingly, it’s predicted that this figure will rise to 5 million people by the year 2025.

But how much do you know about diabetes? Have a go at the questions below to find out!

  1. What is diabetes?
    A condition meaning that your body can’t effectively control your blood sugar levels
    B. An infection passed on by skin-to-skin contact
    C. A lifelong condition which affects your heart
  2. What are the two main types of diabetes?
    A. Type A and Type B
    B. Type 1 and Type 2
    C. There aren’t two main types
  3. What is insulin?
    A. A hormone that helps to regulate the amount of glucose in the blood
    B. A type of sugar
    C. A hormone that increases your appetite
  4. What organ(s) in the body produce(s) insulin?
    A. Liver
    B. Kidneys
    C. Pancreas
  5. How does someone who has diabetes usually manage the condition?
    A. They don’t, it usually goes away by itself
    B. By swallowing insulin tablets
    C. By using an injection pen or pump

Answers:
A, B, A, C, C

Diabetes – what is it?

Diabetes is a serious lifelong condition and there are two main types – Type 1 and Type 2. There are others, but these are much rarer. Regardless of the type of diabetes someone has, what they all have in common is a condition which causes their blood sugar levels to become too high.

In someone without diabetes, when we eat or drink, our bodies normally break down the carbohydrates into glucose. This is then released into our blood. Our bodies need glucose to fuel our cells. A hormone called insulin, which is produced in the pancreas, allows the glucose in our blood to move into our cells. This very clever organ can sense how much sugar is in your blood, and releases the right quantity of insulin for the glucose to get into your cells.

Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes

If you have diabetes, it means that either your pancreas doesn’t make insulin (Type 1) or the insulin that’s produced doesn’t work effectively, or isn’t produced in large enough quantities (Type 2). In both cases, this leads to a build-up of glucose in the bloodstream. Over a long period of time, high glucose levels in your blood can damage your eyes, kidneys, heart and feet.

Undetected diabetes can cause a variety of symptoms, which are commonly referred to as the 4 T’s:

-Thirsty
-Toilet (frequent urination)
-Tired
-Thinner (weight loss)

Other symptoms include: cuts and grazes healing very slowly and coming down with infections such as thrush. If you notice these symptoms in a child you care for, you should let the parents know and advise them to take their child to the doctor straight away.

Type 1 diabetes is the less common form – about 10% of people have this. When you have Type 1, your body attacks the cells in your pancreas that are insulin-producing, so you can’t make any. It isn’t caused by factors such as lifestyle or diet.

Type 1 diabetes is much more commonly found in children. In fact, there are nearly 30,000 children and young people in the UK with this form of diabetes.

About 90% of people affected by diabetes have Type 2. It’s more frequently diagnosed in people over the age of 40 and is often linked with being overweight. Whilst it’s still relatively uncommon in children, the number of children with this type of diabetes is rising, due to a childhood obesity epidemic. Type 2 diabetes can be managed through a healthy diet and increased physical activity, but medication is often needed as well.

Management of diabetes

Diabetes is often managed through injections of insulin. For example, a child with Type 1 diabetes will need an injection four (or more) times a day with an insulin pen. Children who are younger are likely to need help with injections or have an adult do this for them.

For older children and adults, there’s also the possibility of using an insulin pump. This is a battery-operated device which provides a regular dose of insulin throughout the day. The insulin is introduced via a tiny, flexible tube which is inserted under the skin. The tube can be left for 2 or 3 days before it needs to be changed and moved to a different location. Unlike an insulin pen, this device needs to be constantly attached to a person’s body, with only short breaks for activities such as taking a shower.

When supporting a diabetic child, it can be helpful to note that certain physical activities, such as exercise, and other factors like stress or illness can influence blood sugar levels. If a child’s blood glucose level is too low they will feel dizzy, unwell and have problems concentrating. If it’s too high, they may also feel tired, thirsty and need the toilet a lot. Blood glucose levels need to be carefully monitored by trained staff to correct any imbalances (by eating snacks and/or taking insulin) as necessary.

Find out more about the condition at https://www.diabetes.org.uk/.

You can also share your story on social media using the hashtags #diabetesweek #talkaboutdiabetes

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