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 the hormone insulin 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 the quality of life and life expectancy.

There are different types of diabetes, all are complex and serious. The two main types of diabetes are Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

Risk assessment and management

Early risk assessment of Type 2 diabetes and managing your diabetes is important. In order to reduce the risk of complications, your Amcal pharmacist can help you identify risk factors and manage your diabetes with our Diabetes Medication Review and Risk Assessment Consultation. One of our qualified pharmacists can either assess your risk, or review your medication and discuss the best ways to manage your condition.

Diabetes statistics

Diabetes is a dangerous and potentially life-threatening illness. Here are some diabetes statistics to put you in the picture.

  • Close to 5% of Australians suffer from diabetes.
  • Diabetes (underlying/associated causes) contributes to 11% of Australian deaths.
  • Diabetes hospitalisation and death rates are two-times higher in remote areas.
  • Diabetes rates increase steadily with the 75-and-over age group.
  • People 65-74 are 3 times more likely to develop diabetes than those 45-54 years of age.
  • Indigenous Australians are 3 times more likely to have diabetes compared to non-indigenous Australians.

Treatments and therapies available

Controlling your blood sugar (glucose) levels is the major aim of diabetes management.

Type 1 Diabetes

Insulin is required for the treatment of Type 1 diabetes. For good blood glucose control, insulin doses must be adjusted according to blood glucose levels, which depend on food intake, physical activity, and general health.

Type 2 Diabetes

Medications for type 2 diabetes are prescribed according to individual requirements, considering the following:

  • Medicine effectiveness and side effects
  • Medication compliance issues
  • The patient’s health status
  • Costs to the patient and healthcare system

Some people need to take more than one type of tablet and some people eventually need insulin injections.


Here are some handy self-management tips. Adopting these practices, along with strategies advised by your treating doctor, will go a long way towards the management of diabetes and prevention of complications.

  • Eat regular, healthy meals, including plenty of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. 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.
  • 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 regularly.
  • Have regular checks for blood pressure, cholesterol, eyes and kidneys.
  • Always have some quick-acting carbohydrate (glucose) with you.
  • Take extra care of your feet and have them checked regularly by a doctor or podiatrist.
  • Ensure your loved ones know how to help in case of emergency.

Identifying diabetes – Signs and symptoms

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, including:

  • Hunger and tiredness - The body converts food into glucose that is used for energy. However, your cells need insulin to absorb glucose. If your body doesn’t make enough insulin, or your cells resist insulin, the glucose can’t be absorbed. The result is diminished energy and additional hunger.
  • Excessive thirst and urinating - When diabetes pushes blood sugar up, the kidneys may not be able to function optimally. This can cause the body to make more urine, and because of the amount of urinating, you will be thirsty more often.
  • Blurred vision - The change in balanced fluid levels in the body can cause the lenses in your eyes to swell up, change shape and go out of focus.
  • Mood swings - Blood sugar has a major effect on feelings. Poor management of glucose can cause mood swings and affect quality of life.
  • Dry mouth and itchy skin - A person developing diabetes uses more fluid to urinate, leaving less moisture for other things. A dry mouth and itchy skin are common symptoms.

What causes it?

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 and/or the pancreas does not produce enough insulin for the body’s needs. Both situations lead to an abnormally high blood glucose level.


What is hypoglycemia – signs and symptoms

Hypoglycemia is a serious condition where blood sugar (glucose) is lower than it should be. Glucose is the body’s main energy source. Hypoglycemia can be related to diabetes treatment, although there are also other causes of low blood sugar levels. Treatment involves quickly getting blood sugar levels back to normal.

Most people do this with high-sugar foods, drinks, or medications. In the long-term, treatment involves identifying and addressing the underlying cause of hypoglycemia. Symptoms of hypoglycemia include:

  • Fatigue
  • Shakiness
  • Anxiety
  • Pale skin
  • Sweating
  • Irritability
  • Hunger
  • Tingling or numbness in the lips, tongue, or cheeks

If the condition worsens, signs and symptoms may include confusion, abnormal behaviour, inability to complete routine tasks, blurred vision, seizures, and loss of consciousness.

What to do when a patient experiences hypoglycemia

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, muesli bar).
  • Ensure they contact their healthcare professional or dial 000

Interesting facts about diabetes

The prevalence of diabetes has grown to the degree that it is considered a major epidemic of the 21st century. Here are some facts about this great challenge to Australia’s healthcare system.

  • 280 Australians are diagnosed with diabetes daily - one person every 5 minutes.
  • Approximately 1.7 million Australians have diabetes.
  • 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 contracting heart disease, kidney disease, kidney failure, heart attack, and other life-threatening illnesses and chronic diseases.

Frequently asked questions

Family history: Type 1 diabetes is often an inherited disorder. A person has more likelihood of developing diabetes if both parents have the condition.

Pregnancy: During pregnancy, a woman can develop gestational diabetes. This occurs when the body produces extra hormones and the cells become resistant to insulin. This results in too much glucose remaining in the bloodstream and the pregnant mother developing diabetes symptoms.

Obesity: People experiencing type 2 diabetes are often overweight or obese. This creates hormone resistance that stops your cells getting adequate insulin. The longer a person is carrying too much weight, the more likely it is that diabetes will develop. Lifestyle changes can markedly reduce the need for medications.

Genetic mutations: Cell mutations can cause monogenic diabetes. These mutations stop the pancreas from creating insulin for cell health resulting in neonatal diabetes in babies and maturity-onset diabetes in young adults.

Age: Over 55 years of age – the risk increases as we age

Ethnicity: Those of Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, Pacific Island, Indian subcontinent or Chinese cultural background have a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes

Hormone disorders: Some diseases 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.

The long-term complications of diabetes develop over time. The longer you have uncontrolled diabetes, the higher risk of complications, some of them lifethreatening. Complications include:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Nerve damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Eye damage
  • Foot damage
  • Skin conditions
  • Hearing impairment
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Depression

In addition, there can be complications for babies as a result of gestational diabetes. These include excess growth, low blood sugar, and type 2 diabetes later in life.

While type 1 diabetes can’t be prevented, there is clear evidence that maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly and following a healthy eating plan can delay or even prevent type 2 diabetes. Strategies for diabetes management include healthy eating such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, maintaining a healthy weight, or losing weight if you are overweight or obese. You should also quit smoking, reduce alcohol intake, and perform regular physical activity.

Diabetes is serious but can be managed well with a combination of medicines and lifestyle changes. Early diagnosis and treatment can also help to reduce the risk of more serious health problems. Speak to your doctor or allied health professional if you are experiencing symptoms of diabetes or have concerns about your risk of diabetes.

If your doctor suspects you may have diabetes, you will be requested to have a blood test to check glucose levels. Tests include:

Fasting glucose test: Tests glucose levels after fasting for 8 hours.

Oral glucose tolerance test: This involves fasting then drinking a sugary drink and testing glucose levels 1 to 2 hours later.

Random blood glucose test: Blood test taken without fasting.

HbA1 test: Locates a by-product in red blood cells that shows how your body is managing glucose.

Pregnant women are screened for gestational diabetes as part of antenatal testing.

Just ask 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. Explore Amcal products and services online, or visit your local Amcal pharmacy for more assistance.

For more information about the diabetes speak to your Amcal pharmacist.

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