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Australian Indigenous HealthBulletin

Key facts

What is diabetes?

Diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin, a hormone that carries sugar (glucose) from the blood to the cells where it is turned into energy. Without insulin, the sugar stays in the blood, and the person feels tired and lacks energy.

Diabetes is indicated by a level of blood sugar outside the normal range of 4 to 8 millimoles per litre. Further tests are used to make a diagnosis.

How do people get diabetes?

People may get diabetes because they have one or more risk factors. Not everyone who has risk factors will get diabetes, but having risk factors increases a person’s chances of getting the disease.

There are risk factors that can be changed and those that cannot (see lists below). And there are contributing factors, such as poverty, which can be changed, but not easily.

Risk factors that can be changed:

Risk factors that cannot be changed:

What are the different types of diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is usually first found in children and young people. It occurs when the pancreas, a small organ near the stomach, cannot produce insulin any longer. This means that insulin has to be injected into the body several times a day.

Type 2 diabetes is usually found in people aged over 35, particularly those aged over 40 years. It occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, or something prevents the insulin from doing its job. This type of diabetes is most often caused by risk factors that could be avoided by adopting a healthier lifestyle. Some people can have this type of diabetes without knowing it, but it will still make them sick and shorten their lives, so the sooner it is diagnosed the better.

Gestational diabetes happens in some pregnant women and generally disappears after the birth. It is usually diagnosed with a blood test. Indigenous women should have this test at 12 weeks and between 26 and 28 weeks of pregnancy.

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

Signs that a person has diabetes include:

If a person has poorly controlled diabetes for a long time it can damage their body. When diabetes is well controlled, a person can live a healthy long life.

What are the consequences of diabetes?

Having diabetes can lead to serious health problems such as:

Babies born to women who have gestational diabetes are more likely to develop diabetes and cardiovascular disease when they grow up.

What can be done to prevent diabetes?

Not all types of diabetes can be prevented, but lifestyle changes will improve a person’s health and make it less likely that they will get diabetes.

Last updated: 10 July 2012
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