Facts About Diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects around 2.2 million people in the UK of whom 85 to 90% have Type 2 diabetes and 10 to 15% have Type 1 diabetes. In the UK there are about 20,000 children with Type 1 diabetes under the age of 15 years.

The number of people with diabetes is increasing throughout the world with Type 2 diabetes reaching epidemic proportions.

There are two forms of diabetes:

Type 1 diabetes:

  • This type accounts for 10 to 15% of the total number of people with diabetes in the UK. Also referred to as insulin dependent diabetes or juvenile diabetes, Type 1 diabetes affects children and adults up to the age of about forty. The number of children diagnosed under the age of 5 is markedly increasing.
  • Type 1 diabetes is caused by the body’s immune system attacking the insulin producing cells in the pancreas. The body no longer produces insulin and glucose levels rise. Treatment with insulin injections is always required for survival. It is usually diagnosed as an acute condition.
  • Around 20,000 people are treated with animal insulin and the remainder with synthetic ‘human’ or analogue insulin.
  • There is no cure for Type 1 diabetes and cause has not been established. It is thought that there may be several causes with a genetic link in some people. Recent research shows that a common virus may trigger the body’s immune system to attack its own insulin producing pancreatic cells.

Type 2 diabetes:

  • This type of diabetes affects 85% to 90% of the total number of people with diabetes in the UK – over 2 million people and it is thought that there could be a further 1 million people undiagnosed.
  • Type 2 is also referred to as non-insulin dependent diabetes and it occurs mainly in people over the age of 40 although with the rise in obesity, it is now occurring in children.
  • In Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas still often produces some insulin but either not enough or it not used properly by the various organs in the body (so there can be too much insulin in the system).
  • Type 2 diabetes can be treated with diet and exercise alone, oral blood glucose lowering drugs and if this still fails to reduce blood glucose levels sufficiently, then treatment with insulin is necessary. On average, people with Type 2 diabetes start to take insulin 7 years after diagnosis.
  • Type 2 diabetes can remain undiagnosed for several years during which time the blood glucose levels are too high, causing  and some of the complications of diabetes. People with Type 2 diabetes are often diagnosed as a result of having complications rather than because they suspect they have diabetes.
  • There is a tendency for Type 2 diabetes to run in families but a sedentary lifestyle and being overweight or obese are also causes, so it is preventable for many people.
  • The number of people affected by Type 2 diabetes is expected to double by the year 2010 due to the effects of lack of exercise, the increase in obesity and an ageing population.

The complications of diabetes
Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are different diseases in cause, in effect and in treatment but the same long-term complications can arise in both types of the condition. The complications affect:

The eyes
Diabetes can affect the blood vessels at the back of the eye [retinopathy] and this can lead to visual impairment or blindness. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in the working population.

The heart and vascular system
Diabetes can affect the heart and the vascular system making people more susceptible to heart disease and stroke. It can also cause blood clots in the vessels in the legs which may result in amputation. Amputations are 50-80 times higher in people with diabetes than the general population.

Kidney damage
Diabetes can affect the kidneys resulting in damage or kidney failure [nephropathy].

Nerve damage
Diabetes may cause nerve damage [neuropathy]. The most common form of nerve damage is in the extremities leading to pain or loss of sensation in the feet and ulceration of the legs. Again this can lead to amputation.


For more information on Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, please visit the NHS Choices website:

NHS Choices: type 1 diabetes

NHS Choices: type 2 diabetes