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What is diabetes?

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic (long-lasting) condition that occurs when the body cannot produce enough insulin or cannot use insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that is needed to move glucose (sugar) from the blood into the body’s cells, where it is used for energy. When insulin is missing or not working properly, glucose remains in the blood. That’s why diabetes is diagnosed by observing high levels of glucose in the blood.

Over time, the high levels of glucose in the blood (known as hyperglycaemia) can cause damage to many tissues in the body, leading to the development of disabling and life-threatening health complications.

Type 1 diabetes

In Type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. As a result, the body can no longer produce the insulin it needs. Why this occurs is not fully known or understood. The disease can affect people of any age, but it usually occurs in children or young adults. People with this form of diabetes need insulin every day in order to control the levels of glucose in their blood. Without insulin, a person with type 1 diabetes will not survive. But with daily insulin treatment, regular blood glucose monitoring, healthy eating and maintaining healthy lifestyles, people with type 1 diabetes can lead normal, healthy lives.1

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes. It usually occurs in adults, but is being seen more in children and adolescents. In type 2 diabetes, the body is able to produce insulin but becomes resistant to the insulin so that the insulin no longer works properly. Over time, insulin levels may become too low to be effective. Both the insulin resistance and low insulin levels lead to high blood glucose levels.1

Unlike people with type 1 diabetes, many people with type 2 diabetes may not require daily insulin treatment to survive. The essential treatment for type 2 diabetes includes adopting a healthy eating plan, increasing physical activity, managing body weight and taking diabetes medicines if needed. A number of pills or tablets as well as injectable therapies including insulin when needed, are available to help control blood glucose levels for people with type 2 diabetes.


Sometimes, blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be considered diabetes. This is called pre-diabetes and it puts you at a greater risk for developing Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

If you have been told you are at risk for diabetes or have pre-diabetes, be aware that you can take action to help prevent or delay Type 2 diabetes. Making some lifestyle changes now, can help you avoid or delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes and other health complications such as heart disease, in the future. It’s never too late to start.

If your doctor has said you have pre-diabetes, make sure you are tested every one or two years to check for diabetes. And follow the recommended guidelines to help prevent Type 2 diabetes: lose weight if you need to, exercise, and eat healthily.

1. IDF Diabetes Atlas (7th Ed.) (2015). Brussels, Belgium: International Diabetes Federation.

CO/LFS/1016/0115, CO/LFS/0416/0039, CO/LFS/1116/0125(1)