Diabetes is a life-long health condition where the amount of glucose in your blood is too high because the body cannot process it properly.

Diabetics can't efficiently break down glucose into energy

What is diabetes?

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).

When food is digested and enters your bloodstream, insulin moves glucose out of the blood and into cells, where it is broken down to produce energy.

However, if you have diabetes, your body is unable to efficiently break down glucose into energy. This is because there is either not enough insulin to move the glucose, or the insulin produced does not work properly. Too much sugar left in the blood over a long period of time can cause serious damage.

Two types of diabetes

There are two types of diabetes, Type 1 and Type 2.

If we get diabetes when we're young it's more likely to be Type 1. This is unavoidable and can't be prevented - the pancreas simply stops making insulin for no apparent reason. So the insulin needs to be manually injected, and the level sugar in the blood closely monitored. About 10% of diabetics are Type 1.

Type 2 is more likely to start later on in life and it occurs when your body doesn't produce enough insulin or your body develops a resistance to the amount of insulin produced.

Type 2 is often associated with obesity, and so it can usually be controlled by measuring glucose levels, following a healthy diet and undertaking some exercise.

I have diabetes and I feel like a freak...

There are 3 million people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK so you really aren't alone on this one. Your blood is sweeter than average, and one (of millions) of chemicals in your body isn't behaving itself. But you're still you, and you can still live your life.

Having diabetes isn't easy - injections, tablets, hospital check-ups - who needs it? But look after yourself; you're worth taking care of. And staying healthy is the name of the game, you'll be much better off in the long run. Don't let the sugary stuff (or lack of it) get you down.

Being careful about what you eat is important for diabetics but being careful can sometimes boring or annoying. But eating low fat, high fibre, low sugar, plenty of fresh fruit and veg is a good thing and something that we should all be doing, diabetes or no diabetes! Food choice for diabetics is important but no foods are banned.

It should be possible to sort your diabetes so that you can do whatever you want. Easter eggs, sleepovers, spur-of-the-moment curry nights: nothing is off limits as long as you get your treatment sorted. Ask your doctors, nurses and dieticians to explain it all.

My mate is diabetic, what can I do?

Don't be afraid. They're still your mate. And you're still theirs, so try and make things easier for them by:

Trying to understand what they're going through. Learn a bit about diabetes so you can have a conversation about what they're going through.

Helping them when they need it. Sometimes treatment makes the sugar levels too high or too low. Low blood sugars make diabetics behave strangely or even lose consciousness. This is called having a 'hypo' and knowing what to do can be life saving. Read more about this here.

BBC Advice factfiles are here to help young people with a broad range of issues. They're based on advice from medical professionals, government bodies, charities and other relevant groups. Follow the links for more advice from these organisations.


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