What is Diabetes?
Friday, December 03, 2021

Diabetes mellitus is a life-long condition where the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood is too high. This happens when the body cannot use glucose properly due to a lack of insulin or not enough working insulin. Insulin is a hormone that acts like a key to open the doors into your cells to let glucose in. If glucose cannot get into the cells where it is needed to make the energy it builds up in the bloodstream.   

In the short-term high blood glucose levels can cause symptoms (outlined below) causing a person to feel unwell. Long term if diabetes is undiagnosed or poorly managed the high glucose levels (over years) can lead to complications of diabetes such as heart disease, eye disease, foot disease and kidney disease. However, these complications are preventable by self-managing the condition daily and attending routine health checks with your GP or diabetes team.

It is crucial that diabetes is diagnosed at the earliest opportunity and managed in order to keep a person healthy and protect their future health.

Three Things You May Not Know About Diabetes:

  1. There are many different types of diabetes.
  2. All types of diabetes are complex and require daily care and management.
  3. Diabetes does not discriminate; anyone can develop diabetes.

Some of the Main Types of Diabetes Are: 

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body stops producing insulin. Type 1 diabetes can develop at any age but most frequently develops in young people.  It is an auto-immune condition and is not preventable at present. Type 1 diabetes is managed by replacing the body's insulin with multiple daily insulin injections or by using an insulin pump, monitoring blood glucose levels several times daily and balancing this with a healthy lifestyle. 

On average 25 children are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes a month in Ireland. It is important that everyone is aware of the signs and symptoms of Type 1 diabetes as a delay in the diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes can quickly lead to critical illness. Delays in diagnosis can happen because the symptoms of Type 1 diabetes are subtle.

We all need to know the symptoms of Type 1 diabetes so we can recognise them early and act. The symptoms are the key indicators that you or your child might have Type 1 diabetes.

TEST which is easy to remember as an acronym represents the symptoms of Type 1 diabetes

There Are 4 Main Symptoms to Watch Out For:

  • Thirst Increased
  • Energy Reduced
  • Sudden reduction in Weight
  • Toilets Trips Increased

Minor Symptoms may include:

  • Increased Appetite
  • Lack of Concentration
  • Bed Wetting
  • Constipation
  • Mood Swings
  • Frequent Infections

If your child is unwell without a definite cause, ask the GP to test for Type 1 diabetes.

A simple finger-prick blood test can be enough to detect diabetes, if a GP suspects a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes the individual will be sent to the hospital for assessment and treatment.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes, it occurs when the body stops producing enough insulin, or the produced insulin does not work properly which is known as insulin resistance. Type 2 diabetes is managed by healthy eating, regular physical activity and if needed medication which will be prescribed by your doctor.

Diabetes can be diagnosed by a routine blood test to check the level of glucose in the bloodstream.

Signs And Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes: 

It is possible to have Type 2 diabetes and not experience any symptoms but some of the most common symptoms are: 

  • Tiredness more than normal
  • Always being thirsty or having a dry mouth
  • Needing to pass urine very frequently (even during the night)
  • Having frequent infections
  • Slow-healing sores or cuts
  • Genital irritation or thrush
  • Blurred vision
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Numbness, pain or tingling in hands or feet (often worse at night).

If you have diabetes and you still experience these signs and symptoms (above) you should contact your GP. Your blood glucose levels may be high and your treatment for diabetes (medications) may need to be adjusted.  


Pre-diabetes occurs when blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be Type 2 diabetes. Healthy eating and regular physical activity will help to delay the onset of Type 2 Diabetes. A person with pre-diabetes should have annual blood tests to ensure they have not developed Type 2 diabetes. 

Things that increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes or Pre-diabetes developing? 

  • Having a family history of Diabetes
  • Age: As one gets older the body may not produce insulin as efficiently as it once did
  • Being overweight for your height
  • Not taking enough regular physical activity
  • Having had previous gestational diabetes 
  • Having high blood pressure or high cholesterol (often conditions that accompany Type 2 diabetes).

To find out if you are at risk of Type 2 diabetes you can do Diabetes Ireland simple online questionnaire “ARE YOU AT RISK OF TYPE 2 DIABETES TEST” by clicking here

One can help delay or prevent Type 2 diabetes by adopting a healthy lifestyle i.e., healthy eating, regular physical activity and maintaining a weight that is appropriate for their height. 

It is possible to have Type 2 diabetes and not know it so if any number of the risk factors outlined above apply to you, you should attend your GP for a routine blood test to rule out a diagnosis of diabetes.     

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational Diabetes is diabetes that occurs during pregnancy, it occurs when pregnancy hormones work against the body’s insulin, resulting in high blood glucose levels. Gestational diabetes usually only lasts for the pregnancy, but the mother has an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in the future.

Gestational diabetes is routinely screened for in pregnancy.

Download Diabetes Ireland booklet on Gestational Diabetes

A woman who has had gestational diabetes should have annual blood tests to check for Type 2 diabetes. To reduce the future risk of Type 2 diabetes it is advisable to follow a healthy diet, exercise regularly and avoid weight gain.  

Useful Video Links

Information from Diabetes Ireland