- Every 5 minutes, one person is diagnosed with diabetes in Australia. That’s 280 more people with diabetes every day.
- Around 1.2 million Australians have diabetes.
- Around half a million more Australians are estimated to have undiagnosed diabetes.
Leaving diabetes undiagnosed increases the chance of serious health problems that can be avoided.
This National Diabetes Week (14th – 20th July), we encourage everyone over the age of 40 to see their GP to get checked for diabetes.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a condition where there is too much sugar (or glucose) in the blood. This happens when not enough of the hormone insulin is made and/or insulin doesn’t work properly.
How are blood sugar levels controlled by insulin?
When blood sugar levels rise (for example, after a meal), your pancreas releases insulin into the bloodstream. The main role of insulin is to keep blood sugar levels in a healthy range.
Insulin tells cells around your body to start taking up glucose from the blood. Once inside the cells, the glucose is converted into energy which can be used or stored.
Because glucose moves into the cells and out of the blood, blood glucose levels start to fall.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas becomes unable to make enough insulin or the cells in the body become resistant to insulin. This means that glucose is unable to move out of the blood, so blood sugar levels remain high. This can lead to a number of health problems.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes in Australia. It develops over a long period of time.
Risk factors for Type 2 Diabetes
While we don’t know what causes type 2 diabetes, some risk factors include:
- Family history of diabetes
- Ethnicity – Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, Pacific Islander, Indian or Chinese cultural background
- Being over 45 years and overweight and/or having high blood pressure
- For women, having had gestational diabetes during a pregnancy
- For women, having PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome)
While risk factors are good at identifying groups of people more likely to get type 2 diabetes, they don’t identify everyone. For example, just because no one in your family has ever had diabetes, doesn’t mean you won’t get it. And some people who are overweight may not develop type 2 diabetes while others who have a healthy weight will.
What health problems are caused by diabetes?
Diabetes can cause many serious health problems, particularly if high blood sugar levels are left untreated for a period of time. This includes kidney damage, heart disease, stroke, vision loss or blindness, amputation of lower limbs and sexual health problems, like erectile dysfunction in men.
For many Australians, type 2 diabetes remains undiagnosed for years, and might only be picked up on testing. Detecting type 2 diabetes earlier allows treatment to be started, which reduces the risk of a serious health problem developing.
How is type 2 diabetes treated?
The best way to manage type 2 diabetes is to keep your blood sugar levels under control. This can be done through making changes to your lifestyle, like eating a healthier diet, being more physically active, aiming for a healthy weight, drinking responsibly and quitting smoking. Medication may be needed to help control blood glucose levels.
For more information and support, see the Diabetes Australia website.
Diabetes Australia has also developed a mobile phone app for iPhone and Android. This app has information and lots of great diabetes-friendly meal ideas with recipes and shopping lists.
This National Diabetes Week (14th – 20th July) we encourage everyone over the age of 40 years to get checked for diabetes. Early identification means earlier control and treatment. This is important to avoid serious complications and improve long-term health.
The medical content of this page has been reviewed by Professor Bu Yeap, a consultant endocrinologist and Professor in the Medical School, University of Western Australia. His research focusses on hormones and health outcomes in men and the interaction between hormones, diabetes and cardiovascular risk. Professor Yeap is Chair of the Medical Affairs Committee and President-Elect of the Endocrine Society of Australia.