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guide to diabetes

What is Diabetes? Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

Diabetes, or diabetes mellitus to give the condition its full name, is a disease in which the body is not able to process blood sugar (glucose) properly. This can lead to a range of different complications.

It is traditionally divided into Type 1 Diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes 

This is an autoimmune condition in which the body is no longer able to produce insulin (the hormone that regulates glucose levels). It usually develops in childhood or early adulthood and is much less common than Type 2 Diabetes. People with Type 1 Diabetes always need to inject insulin to treat the condition.

Type 2 Diabetes 

Most commonly affects adults over the age of 40 but it is now increasingly being seen in younger adults and even children. This is because it is closely linked to diet and to being overweight or obese. As rates of obesity have risen amongst younger people, so have rates of diabetes.


Why type 2 diabetes is more common

Type 2 accounts for over 90% of diabetes in the UK.

It is caused when the body loses its ability to produce enough insulin, when the cells of the body stop responding to insulin (known as insulin resistance), or a combination of these two things.

This is generally the result of the body being exposed to continual high levels of blood sugar due to an unhealthy diet. 


The risk factors

Being overweight

As mentioned above, being overweight is a risk factor for diabetes but there are other risk factors too.

Relatives & ethnicity

You are at increased risk if you have a first degree relative with diabetes such as a sibling or a parent which shows that there are genetic factors at play in the disease.

People with Black African, Asian, or African-Caribbean ancestry are at higher risk.

Gestational Diabetes

Women who have suffered with gestational diabetes during pregnancy are at increased risk of developing diabetes, as is anybody who has been identified as having non-diabetic hyperglycaemia or ‘pre-diabetes’.


Some medications can also increase the risk, in particular long-term or regular use of steroid medication.



Type 2 Diabetes may go unnoticed for years before it is diagnosed as the symptoms may be mild or even absent.

Despite this, the high blood sugar levels may be causing damage to the body and so many people already have some evidence of diabetes related complications by the time they are diagnosed.

Symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Feeling thirsty all the time
  • Passing more urine than usual
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Frequent infections including recurrent thrush
  • Occasional blurring of vision.
glass of water
tired all the time
blurred vision

Weight loss is very common in Type 1 Diabetes but much less common in Type 2.

Although the above symptoms of diabetes can be very unpleasant, what is of most concern is the long-term complications that can be caused by persistently high blood glucose levels.

These high sugar levels cause damage to the blood vessels and nerves.

This leads to complications such as:

  • Kidney damage
  • Visual loss due to damage to the blood vessels in the eye
  • An increased risk of heart attacks and stroke
  • Loss of sensation in the hands and feet (known as diabetic neuropathy).

The loss of sensation to the feet, which often co-exists with reduced blood supply to the feet, can result in pain, ulcers, infections, and deformities of the foot. Sometimes the situation gets so bad that it leads to amputation.

If blood sugar levels are well controlled then these complications are much less likely to develop or progress and this is why it is so important to diagnose and treat diabetes as early as possible.



Diagnosing diabetes is very straightforward – it is simply done with blood tests. The two main blood tests used for diagnosis are the fasting blood glucose test and the Haemoglobin A1C (HbA1C).

The fasting blood glucose test is conducted after an overnight fast. This usually means having nothing to eat, and drinking only water, from about 10 o’clock the night before the test and then checking blood sugar levels in the morning. In a healthy person blood sugar levels should be low. In someone with diabetes, the blood sugar level will still be high.

The HbA1C test can be used both for diagnosis and for monitoring the disease. The HbA1C effectively gives an average of blood sugar levels over the last 3 months. A high HbA1C is diagnostic of diabetes and then can be repeated periodically to monitor how things are changing. This would usually be done 3 months after any change in treatment and every 6 months if treatment is stable. 

Both these tests can be ordered through One Day Tests. These can either be ordered individually or can be combined using our Advanced Diabetes Blood Test.

Besides monitoring blood sugar levels, people with diabetes usually have an annual eye check to check for damage to the eyes, an examination of their feet to assess for nerve damage, and blood and urine tests to check the health of the kidneys. 



There are now many different treatment options available which means that many people can achieve good control of their diabetes using a treatment regime that suits them. 

Whatever other treatment may be required, the cornerstone of treating diabetes is adhering to:

  • A healthy diet
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • And undertaking regular exercise 

Many people will be able to control their diabetes through lifestyle alone. Some people may even send it into ‘remission’ through lifestyle, meaning that they are effectively no longer diabetic.

There is currently a lot of interest in the role of very low calorie diets in trying to achieve remission although these should only be undertaken with the guidance of a qualified health professional.

If someone with diabetes does need medication, there are a variety of different options, both oral tablets and injectable medications. 

Some people with Type 2 Diabetes may need to inject insulin as part of their treatment but this is becoming less common with the range of other medications now available.

Because diabetes is a risk factor for heart disease and strokes, people with diabetes also have their other risk factors tightly controlled. This means treating people to optimise their cholesterol levels, controlling their blood pressure, and encouraging smokers to quit.


The Outlook

A diagnosis of diabetes can come as a shock, particularly for those people who have suffered few or no symptoms. Although diabetes can be a very nasty illness if left uncontrolled, it is a disease that can be effectively treated. With prompt diagnosis and an active approach to lifestyle change and treatment, the feared complications need never develop and so the outlook overall should be good. 


About One Day Tests

One Day Tests offer you the power to manage your health by monitoring and understanding your health status. We also offer a wide range of health check blood tests, such as full body MOT checks, men's and women's health, hormones, wellness & nutrition, fertility and sexual health

Our range of blood tests provide the ease, speed and accuracy in your results to give you the peace of mind you deserve.

Choose one of our local clinics for your blood test or opt for the convenience and comfort of using our at-home blood test kits.

For additional assistance, guidance or queries regarding our custom panels, do not hesitate to get in touch. Our team is here to help you with any questions and provide you with the information you need. You can contact us at 0845 527 07 67 , send an email to , or reach out to us via WhatsApp.

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