Diabetes (also called diabetes mellitus) is a relatively common condition which affects the levels of sugar in the blood. Up to 2.6 million people in the UK have diabetes, with half a million estimated to be unaware of their condition. There are two types of diabetes, one is caused by the body not creating insulin, and the other is generally brought on by lifestyle and being overweight.

Symptoms of Undiagnosed Diabetes

Here is a list of symptoms which may indicate a case of diabetes:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Increased desire to pass urine
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Blurred vision
  • Slow healing
  • Repeated cases of thrush

Insulin is a hormone which is released by the pancreas and acts to regulate blood sugar levels by helping it move into the body's cells, where it is used to produce energy. If insulin is not doing this job, then the glucose stays in the blood.

Two Types of Diabetes:

Type 1:
This form of diabetes occurs before the age of 40 and most commonly in children. It occurs because the insulin-producing cells have been destroyed and so the body cannot produce insulin to control blood sugar levels. This form of diabetes is controlled using injections of insulin (or sometimes with a pump), controlling the diet and regular exercise. It is often also known as insulin-dependent diabetes. Approximately 15% of people with diabetes in the UK have type 1 diabetes.

Type 2:
Type 2 diabetes occurs usually past the age of 40 when the amount of insulin produced decreases or doesn't work effectively. It is sometimes known as non-insulin dependent diabetes, or adult-onset diabetes. Unfortunately, the prevalence of type 2 diabetes in younger people is increasing, due to a rise in people who are overweight. Type 2 diabetes is often controlled with a healthy diet and exercise, although in more severe cases, medication may be required. Approximately 85% of people with diabetes in the UK have type 2 diabetes.

Complications of Diabetes


A 'hypo' occurs when the blood sugar levels drop too low. This may occur if too much insulin is injected, meals or snacks are missed, alcohol is consumed without food or following exercise. When at risk of a hypo, the sufferer will usually experience some warning signs which should prompt them to correct the problem. These include shaking, tingling lips, pounding heart, dizziness, confusion, going pale and sweating. When a hypo occurs, the individual should consume a fast-acting high-carbohydrate drink or sugar tablets, followed as soon as possible by a long-acting carb snack such as a cereal bar, piece of fruit or a sandwich. If left untreated, the individual would eventually lose consciousness.

If insulin levels are too low, insulin is not moved into the body's cells to make energy. To make up for this, the body starts using fat as an energy source, which produces an acidic byproduct known as ketones. These Ketones are extremely harmful and so the body attempts to excrete them in the urine. When ketones are present and blood glucose levels are rising (due to low insulin levels), the person becomes more and more thirsty as the body attempts to flush out the ketones. If not removed, ketoacidosis develops - which means increased acidity of the blood due to the presence of ketones. Nausea and vomiting usually then occur which only increase dehydration and so worsen the problem. Other symptoms include blurry sight and deep and rapid breathing.

A combination of the ketoacidosis and high blood glucose levels can lead to the individual falling into a coma, which could be fatal. If ketoacidosis is suspected, call a doctor immediately.


Diabetes and Exercise

People with diabetes are encouraged to exercise regularly to help control blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity, as well as to maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of cardiovascular conditions. Muscles which are working hard require more energy and so more glucose is drawn from the blood, helping to maintain a more constant level.

Some safety considerations must be made before someone with diabetes exercises:

  • Enough carbohydrate has been taken prior to exercise, to provide the muscles with the required energy and prevent a 'hypo'.
  • Excess insulin has not been administered, as this reduces blood glucose levels, as does exercise. This could lead to ketoacidosis.
  • Always carry a fast-acting source of carbohydrates such as glucose tablets or a sugary drink.
  • Drink plenty of fluid throughout.

Diabetics should not exercise if:

  • Blood sugar levels are above 300 mg/dl
  • If you are ill or recovering from illness