What is diabetes?

Information for children and young people living with diabetes

If you’re new to diabetes, this is the place to start. Find out about diabetes and how it affects your body.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes, also known as diabetes mellitus, happens when the glucose in your blood stays high. Everybody has glucose in their blood. It’s in the food we eat. It provides energy for our muscles, organs and brain to work, think and play.

When you have diabetes, the glucose needs help to move out of your blood and into the cells of your body (those found in your muscles, organs and brain). For the glucose to get into your cells it needs insulin. Insulin is made in an organ called the pancreas, which is found behind your stomach. People with diabetes either cannot make insulin or the insulin made does not work properly. Insulin is like a key. It ‘unlocks’ the doors of your cells allowing glucose to get in. Glucose gives your cells the energy they need to do their job.

High levels of glucose in your blood everyday can make you feel unwell. If not treated, over time the glucose can also cause damage to your eyes, feet, kidney, heart and brain.

Types of diabetes

There are different types of diabetes. The main types are type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition with no known cause or cure. If you have type 1 diabetes it means your pancreas is not making the insulin your body needs.

If you have type 1 diabetes you can do everything other people can do, but you also have to do a few extra things:

  • Have insulin every day either by injection or via an insulin pump
  • Check your blood glucose levels (BGLs)
  • Count carbohydrates in the foods you eat.

You can learn more about diabetes by watching these videos.

Video: What is Type 1 diabetes? A children’s guide

Video: What Is Type 1 Diabetes

Video: Highs and lows

Video: Diabetes Management

Video: Mood Food Move Me = busting diabetes myths


Sam’s Diabetes Story

Sam Webb was 11 years old when he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Three years after his diagnosis Sam wrote his story to help others. Sam’s story

Type 2 diabetes

If you have type 2 diabetes it means your pancreas is not making enough insulin or the insulin it is making is not working properly.

Generally, you can manage type 2 diabetes by eating healthy foods and being active. Sometimes medications like tablets or insulin may also be needed.

If you have type 2 diabetes, you also need to check your blood glucose levels (BGLs) and learn about carbohydrate foods.


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