What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a serious complex condition which can affect the entire body. Diabetes requires daily self care and if complications develop, diabetes can have a significant impact on quality of life and can reduce life expectancy. While there is currently no cure for diabetes, you can live an enjoyable life by learning about the condition and effectively managing it.

There are different types of diabetes; all types are complex and serious. The three main types of diabetes are type 1type 2 and gestational diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune condition in which the immune system is activated to destroy the cells in the pancreas which produce insulin. We do not know what causes this auto-immune reaction. Type 1 diabetes is not linked to modifiable lifestyle factors. There is no cure and it cannot be prevented.

Type 1 diabetes:

  • Occurs when the pancreas does not produce insulin
  • Represents around 10% of all cases of diabetes and is one of the most common chronic childhood conditions
  • Onset is usually abrupt and the symptoms obvious
  • Symptoms can include excessive thirst and urination, unexplained weight loss, weakness and fatigue and blurred vision
  • Is managed with insulin injections several times a day or the use of an insulin pump.

Type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition in which the body becomes resistant to the normal effects of insulin and/or gradually loses the capacity to produce enough insulin in the pancreas. We do not know what causes type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is associated with modifiable lifestyle risk factors. Type 2 diabetes also has strong genetic and family related risk factors.

Type 2 diabetes:

  • Is diagnosed when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin (reduced insulin production) and/or the insulin does not work effectively and/or the cells of the body do not respond to insulin effectively (known as insulin resistance)
  • Represents 85–90 per cent of all cases of diabetes
  • Usually develops in adults over the age of 45 years but is increasingly occurring in younger age groups including children, adolescents and young adults
  • Is more likely in people with a family history of type 2 diabetes or from particular ethnic backgrounds
  • For some the first sign may be a complication of diabetes such as a heart attack, vision problems or a foot ulcer
  • Is managed with a combination of regular physical activityhealthy eating and weight reduction. As type 2 diabetes is often progressive, most people will need oral medications and/or insulin injections in addition to lifestyle changes over time.

 Gestational Diabetes

 Gestational diabetes mellitus (sometimes referred to as GDM) is a form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. Most women will no longer have diabetes after the baby is born. However, some women will continue to have high blood glucose levels after delivery. It is diagnosed when higher than normal blood glucose levels first appear during pregnancy.

Gestational diabetes is the fastest growing type of diabetes in Australia, affecting thousands of pregnant women. Between 12% and 14% of pregnant women will develop gestational diabetes and this usually occurs around the 24th to 28th week of pregnancy. All pregnant women should be tested for gestational diabetes at 24-28 weeks of pregnancy (except those women who already have diabetes). Women who have risk factors for gestational diabetes should be tested earlier in their pregnancy.

Who is at increased risk of gestational diabetes?

Women at increased risk of developing gestational diabetes include those who:

  • Are aged 40 years or over
  • Have a family history of type 2 diabetes or a first-degree relative (mother or sister) who has had gestational diabetes
  • Are above the healthy weight range
  • Have had elevated blood glucose levels in the past
  • Are from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds
  • Are from a Melanesian, Polynesian, Chinese, Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern or Indian background
  • Have had gestational diabetes during previous pregnancies
  • Have previously had Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
  • Have previously given birth to a large baby (weighing more than 4.5kg)
  • Are taking some types of anti-psychotic or steroid medications
  • Have gained weight too rapidly in the first half of pregnancy.

Gestational diabetes may also occur in women with no known risk factors.

I've just been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, what do I do about it?

You will be referred back to your doctor who will help you establish a health care team to manage the condition and provide support for you and your family. This team may consist of endocrinologists, obstetricians, diabetes educators, accredited practicing dietitians, accredited exercise physiologists, GP's and midwives.

For many women, being diagnosed with gestational diabetes can be upsetting. However, it is important to remember that the majority of women with gestational diabetes have a healthy pregnancy, normal delivery and a healthy baby. The treatment is a healthy eating plan, regular physical activity and monitoring and maintaining blood glucose levels in the target range while you are pregnant. Read more about managing gestational diabetes.


My screening results indicate I may have diabetes or pre-diabetes, what now?

When you’re diagnosed with diabetes it can be overwhelming. Your doctor will provide you with a lot of information and ask you a number of questions, about your eating patterns, weight history, blood pressure, medications you might be taking, any family history of heart disease and any treatments you have received for other health problems. If appropriate, the doctor will ask whether you smoke or drink. If you’re a mother you may also be asked about your child or children’s health.

If you are wondering about why there are so many questions, all of this information is relevant and helps your doctor understand your situation and how to help you best manage your condition.


What you can do

Currently there is no cure for DIabetes therefore the diagnosis is lifelong (with the exception of gestational diabetes quite often).  However it has been found that managing your condition by keeping your blood glucose levels within range you can significantly reduce the risk of developing other diabetic-related health problems.

Ensuring your diabetes is well managed is vitally important and you are the best person to do that. It can feel overwhelming at first, but you will soon develop an awareness and helpful lifestyle habits which will become more automatic over time. You’ll have a health care team of people to help you, which can include your doctor, a diabetes educator, dietician, podiatrist and eye specialist. The team approach helps you to understand the condition, its treatment and the best management strategies for you.


Physical examination

Your doctor will also want do a thorough physical examination, including a careful look at your mouth, feet, eyes, abdomen, skin and thyroid gland (a gland at the base of your neck that releases hormones that helps your body use energy) and possibly a cardiac (heart) work-up. You’ll have a range of tests, including blood-lipid test for cholesterol.

The initial assessment is important for your overall care. Your doctor will be able to refer you to health professionals who may become part of your healthcare team.


Register with the National Diabetes Services Scheme

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes you are eligible to register with the National Diabetes Services Scheme (NDSS). Registration is free and the organisation provides education and support to people with diabetes, and access to subsidised products.

You can also call the free diabetes Infoline on 1300 136 588 and talk to a health professional about your diabetes.


Key diabetes organisations

Supporting people with diabetes, raising awareness about diabetes and searching for a cure for diabetes involves a large number of organisations within Australia and internationally.


Australian Diabetes Educators Association

The Australian Diabetes Educators Association (ADEA) is Australia’s peak professional organisation in diabetes education. It actively promotes best practice diabetes education to ensure optimal health and well being for all people affected by, and at risk of, diabetes.

Australian Diabetes Society

The Australian Diabetes Society is the expert organisation in Australia on medical and scientific diabetes matters and is devoted to the medical and scientific advancement of diabetes care and research. Its overall goals are to provide optimum care for people with diabetes and to research methods for curing diabetes and preventing those at risk from developing diabetes.

Australasia Paediatric Endocrine Group

Australasia Paediatric Endocrine Group (APEG) is the professional body in Australia and New Zealand which represents those involved in management and/or research of children with disorders of the endocrine system, including diabetes mellitus.

Australasian Diabetes in Pregnancy Society

Australasian Diabetes in Pregnancy Society (ADIPS) is a professional body established to advance clinical and scientific knowledge of diabetes in pregnancy, to encourage dissemination of this knowledge and to foster collaboration with other regional societies interested in diabetes in pregnancy.

State and Territory Diabetes Organisations

Each state and territory diabetes organisation is a non-government, community based organisation reliant upon community support. Their core business is the management, detection and prevention of diabetes and providing ongoing support for people with diabetes and their families and carers.

The Diabetes Australia Research Program

The Diabetes Australia Research Program supports and develops the field of diabetes research in Australia through providing funding towards the prevention, management and cure for diabetes, as well as enabling and fostering young and upcoming researchers in diabetes research

Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation

The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) is the world's largest charitable supporter of type 1 diabetes research. JDRF was founded in 1970 in the US and in 1982 in Australia by a group of determined volunteers.

Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute

The Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute is an independent, internationally renowned medical research facility. Its work extends from the laboratory to wide-scale community studies with a focus on diagnosis, prevention and treatment of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.


The information on this page is sourced from Diabetes Australia website