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Ten things you should know about diabetes

With the incidence of diabetes on the rise, Ailin Quinlan talks to Professor Seamus Sreenan, who is a consultant endocrinologist, to bring you all you need to know about the condition.

1. Type one? type two?

There's a significant difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune condition in which the body's own immune system attacks and damages beta cells, which are the cells which make insulin in the pancreas. That means patients have little or no insulin themselves, so they have to take it.

Type 1 usually presents in younger people, but can occur in adults.

Type 2 diabetes, which usually occurs in older people, normally adults but also in younger people with a strong "at risk" family history, is very different. This occurs where the body becomes resistant to insulin, which can happen over years or decades.

The pancreas starts to produce more insulin to overcome the resistance, but at some point that compensation mechanism fails and the blood sugar levels start to rise.

2. Type 2 diabetes is preventable - in some cases

You can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by eating a healthy diet and also staying active.

3. Yes, people with diabetes can eat sugar

Professor Seamus Sreenan explains: "There is a belief that if you have diabetes, you cannot have sugar, but we recommend that approximately 50% of the calories everyone takes in should come from carbohydrate sources.

"Foods such as bread, pasta or rice contain sugars which are broken down by the body and used as fuel."

4. All diabetes is serious

"There is a perception out there that type 2 diabetes is less severe because you don't necessarily have to take insulin," Professor Sreenan says. "However, type 2 diabetes is a serious condition which needs to be controlled."

If someone with type 2 diabetes doesn't manage their condition properly, they can develop the same complications as someone with type 1.

5. Diabetes is a leading cause of blindness

Every person with diabetes needs an eye check which examines the blood vessels at the back of the eye, which can become damaged with no symptoms until too late to treat.

6. Control your diabetes, don't let it control you

Eat healthily, take regular physical activity and complying with the prescribed regime of medication. Also, have an annual medical check-up.

7. You can't take insulin as a tablet

Currently insulin must be taken as injection or via a pump as the digestive juices would harm it if it was taken in tablet form, but there are trials of inhaled insulin taking place with limited success.

8. Some people with type 2 will need insulin injections

But this does not mean they have developed type 1 diabetes. When first diagnosed, many people with type 2 diabetes can keep their blood glucose at a healthy level with oral medications but over time, the body gradually produces less and less of its own insulin, and eventually oral medications may not be enough to keep blood glucose levels normal.

9. Low blood sugars are not a symptom of diabetes

Low blood sugars are actually a side-effect of the treatment (tablets or insulin) which a person needs to maintain good glycaemic control of their diabetes.

10. People with diabetes don't need special "diabetic "foods

Foods marked "diabetic" are neither recommended nor needed - they generally offer no special benefit, Professor Sreenan says.

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