Understanding Diabetes

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic condition where the levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood are high due to problems with insulin and how it works in the body. Insulin is the hormone that enables our body cells to use glucose. Diabetes requires daily self-care and if complications develop, it can have a significant impact on quality of life and life expectancy.

There are different types of diabetes; all are complex and serious. There are three main types of diabetes are Type 1, Type 2 and gestational diabetes.

Early risk assessment of type 2 diabetes and effectively managing all types of diabetes is important. You can book a Diabetes Health Consultation, where one of our Amcal pharmacists can assess your risk of type 2 diabetes and discuss the best ways to manage your risk factors, as well as explain strategies to manage all types of diabetes.

  • Type 2 diabetes risk assessment or diabetes management assessment, including HbA1c check if appropriate
  • Diet and lifestyle advice
  • Referral to other healthcare providers
  • Follow-up consultation: Medication review

Book in for a Diabetes Health Consultation for early detection and management of your diabetes risk, or to help you best manage any type of diabetes.

What causes diabetes?

In type 1 diabetes, body cells cannot use glucose because the insulin-making cells in the pancreas have been destroyed by the body’s own immune system.

In type 2 diabetes, body cells cannot use glucose properly because they are resistant to insulin and/or the pancreas does not produce enough insulin for the body’s needs.

In gestational diabetes (diabetes that appears during pregnancy), hormones from the placenta block insulin, preventing the body from regulating the increased blood sugar of pregnancy effectively.

All situations lead to an abnormally high blood glucose level.

Identifying diabetes

Some symptoms of diabetes occur suddenly and are easier to notice, while others may manifest gradually and go unnoticed for a long time. Most early symptoms of diabetes are caused by higher than normal glucose levels in the blood. In some cases of type 2 diabetes, the warning signs are so mild that they go unnoticed until long-term damage has been caused by the disease. Type 1 diabetes symptoms usually come on fast, and are much more severe. Both diabetes types share some of the same warning signs.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Excessive thirst
  • Passing more urine
  • Hunger and tiredness
  • Blurred vision
  • Mood swings
  • Itchy skin, skin infections, delayed wound healing


Hypoglycemia is a serious condition where blood sugar (glucose) is lower than it should be. Symptoms include:

  • Shaking
  • Numbness or tingling around lips
  • Sweating
  • Blurred vision, slurred speech
  • Fast heart beat
  • Irritability, confusion
  • Weakness, dizziness
  • Loss of consciousness

Interesting facts about diabetes

  • 280 Australians are diagnosed with diabetes daily - one person every 5 minutes.
  • A family member or friend often acts as a carer for someone with diabetes. In other words, close to 2.4 million Australians are affected by diabetes daily.
  • The annual cost to Australia due to the impact of diabetes is estimated at $14.6 billion.
  • Diabetes is the leading cause of preventable blindness in Australia.
  • People with diabetes have a much higher chance of developing heart disease, kidney disease and other chronic, life-threatening conditions.

Treatment of diabetes

Type 1 Diabetes

Insulin is required for the treatment of type 1 diabetes. A range of insulin products are available. They have different durations of action (e.g. short, intermediate or long-acting) and different injection devices. The variety of products allows insulin therapy to be tailored to suit different people and different lifestyles. For optimal blood glucose control, insulin doses must be adjusted according to blood glucose levels, which is impacted by food intake, physical activity, and general health.

Type 2 Diabetes

In type 2 diabetes there are several different types of tablets available, that work in different ways to improve glucose metabolism and lower blood glucose. Some people need to take more than one type of tablet and some people also need insulin injections.

Self management

  • Eat regular, healthy meals. Limit or avoid foods high in fat, sugar or salt.
  • Exercise at a moderate level for at least 30 minutes on all or most days of the week.
  • Keep to a healthy body weight.
  • Limit alcohol and eat carbohydrate foods when drinking alcohol.
  • Don’t smoke – it can increase the risk of diabetic complications.
  • Follow the use and care instructions for your home blood glucose monitor and measure your blood glucose levels as advised.
  • Have regular blood pressure, cholesterol, eye and kidney checks.

Frequently asked questions

  • Family history: Your risk increases if a parent or sibling has diabetes.
  • Weight: The more fatty tissue a person has, the more resistant their body cells become to insulin. The longer a person is carrying excess weight, the more likely it is for type 2 diabetes to develop. Lifestyle changes can significantly reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and the need for medications in people diagnosed with the condition.
  • High blood pressure: Having high blood pressure is linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels: If you have low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol, your risk of type 2 diabetes is higher. People with high levels of triglycerides (“bad” cholesterol) also have an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Hormonal disorders: Some conditions create a situation that results in too much or too little hormone production. There are many hormonal disorders that upset natural insulin amounts in the body and provoke diabetes.

Long-term complications of diabetes develop gradually. The longer you have uncontrolled diabetes, the higher the risk of complications. Possible complications include:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Nerve damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Eye damage
  • Foot damage
  • Skin conditions
  • Hearing impairment
  • Depression
  • Excessive thirst: When your blood sugar levels rise, your body tries to pull fluid from other tissues to dilute the sugar in your bloodstream. This process can cause your body to dehydrate, prompting you to drink more water.
  • Passing more urine: When blood sugar rises, you drink more water which can cause you to urinate more. Your body may also try to eliminate excess sugar through urination.
  • Hunger and tiredness: The body converts food into glucose, which your body cells use for energy. However, your cells need insulin to enable them to absorb glucose. If your body doesn’t make enough insulin, or your cells are resistant to insulin, the glucose can’t be absorbed and the result is diminished energy. Your body responds by increasing hunger.
  • Blurred vision: The change in fluid levels in the body can cause the lenses in your eyes to swell up and change shape, causing your vision to go out of focus.
  • Mood swings: Blood sugar has a major effect on emotions. Uncontrolled glucose levels can cause mood swings and affect the quality of life.
  • Skin infections: Bacteria and fungi thrive on high blood sugar levels, therefore infections may be more common and more difficult to treat.

Hypoglycaemia means low blood glucose, which may occur if doses of diabetes tablets or insulin are not balanced with food intake and physical activity. Treatment involves speedily getting blood sugar levels back to normal. Most people do this with high-sugar foods or drinks, or medications. In the long term, treatment involves identifying and addressing the underlying causes of hypoglycaemia.

A person with diabetes who has hypoglycaemia needs to have:

  • Quick-acting carbohydrate (glucose) e.g., ½ glass soft drink or fruit juice (not ‘diet’ drinks), 3 teaspoons sugar or honey, 6-7 jelly beans, then
  • Longer-acting carbohydrate within 20 minutes (e.g., a meal, fruit, yoghurt, milk or muesli bar)

While type 1 diabetes can't be prevented, there is clear evidence that healthy habits can delay or even prevent type 2 diabetes.

Healthy habits that can help prevent type 2 diabetes include:

  • Healthy eating
  • Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight
  • Regular physical activity
  • Quitting smoking
  • Following alcohol intake guidelines (fewer than 4 standard drinks a day)

Your Amcal pharmacist is a trained expert in diabetes healthcare. They can help assess your risk of diabetes, by completing a risk assessment questionnaire with you and performing glucose level checks if relevant. These can include:

  • Random blood glucose test: Offers a snapshot view of your current blood glucose level
  • HbA1c test: Offers a long-term view and gives an indication of how much sugar there has been in the blood over the past few months (3-4 months).

Diabetes is serious but type 2 diabetes can be delayed or possibly prevented, and all types of diabetes can be managed well with a combination of medicines and lifestyle changes. Early diagnosis and effective treatment can also help to reduce the risk of more serious complications. Speak to your doctor if you have been identified as at risk of having diabetes or experiencing symptoms of diabetes.

Just ask Amcal

Diabetes is one of the biggest challenges confronting Australians. Understanding diabetes and its seriousness is important. Help is available at Amcal.

If you think you are at risk of diabetes, or if you would like advice on managing your diabetes, speak to your Amcal pharmacist. They can provide health information, assess your diabetes risk and assist you in making lifestyle changes and adopting a healthy diet required for a happy future.

Your Amcal pharmacist is a trained expert in diabetes healthcare, so whatever stage you’re at, we’re always here to help.

For more information about diabetes or diabetic medicines, speak to your Amcal pharmacist.

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