I have been told I may have diabetes. What exactly is it? 

Diabetes mellitus (DM) commonly known as diabetes is a disorder of the metabolism causing excessive thirst and the production of large amounts of urine. If left untreated, it can cause many serious complications throughout the body. 

A 2010 VHI study found undiagnosed diabetes in 1 in 45 adults in Ireland (45-75 years) and undiagnosed pre-diabetes in 1 in 11. 

Is there more than one type of diabetes?  

There are three main types of diabetes mellitus: 

Type 1 diabetes mellitus 

This is commonly diagnosed in children and young adults but can occur at any age. It is not linked to lifestyle factors. 

It occurs when the pancreas stops producing the hormone insulin. Insulin allows the body to use glucose found in foods for energy. People with type 1 diabetes must inject insulin on a daily basis. This form of diabetes develops in children and young adults but can occur at any age. 


Type 2 diabetes mellitus 

This is the most  common type of diabetes. It typically develops later in life (40yrs +) and is associated with poor lifestyle behaviour and diet. However, it is becoming increasingly common in younger people. It develops when the body is unable to produce enough insulin and /or is unable to use insulin properly (insulin resistance).  


Gestational diabetes 

This occurs when pregnant women without a previous history of diabetes develop a high blood sugar level. 

What are the common symptoms? 

Common symptoms of diabetes can include: 

  • Thirst 
  • Unexplained tiredness 
  • Frequent urination 
  • Weight loss 
  • Blurred vision 
  • Frequent infections 
  • Wounds that won’t heal 

In some cases there are no symptoms, as can happen with type 2 diabetes. In this instance, people will be unaware that they have the disease. It can develop so gradually that symptoms may not be easily recognised. 

What are the risk factors? 

There are a range of factors to consider when assessing the risk of developing diabetes, the more of these that are present the greater the risk: 

  • Over 40 years of age 
  • Diabetes runs in the immediate family 
  • A history of heart disease or stroke 
  • Overweight 
  • Carrying excess weight around the tummy 
  • History of diabetes in pregnancy 
  • African, Asian, South Asian or Hispanic parents 

If you feel that you are at increased risk of developing diabetes, you should arrange to see your doctor and be checked out. 

If you are at high-risk of developing diabetes, lifestyle measures such as weight management, are proven to reduce that risk. 

Screening for diabetes is very important. By the time diabetes is diagnosed, 1 in 5 people already have complications that could have been prevented.