What is diabetes?

Diabetesmellitus (or simply diabetes) refers to a group of serious lifelong conditions where there is too much glucose in the blood. Currently an estimated 1.7 million Australians are living with diabetes, which includes about 1.2 million people known and registered with all types of diabetes as well as an estimated 500,000 people with undiagnosed type 2 diabetes¹ Every day a further 280 Australians² are diagnosed, including about 60 people with type 2³ and up to two people with type 1 diabetes in Queensland.4


Glucose is your body's main source of energy. It comes from the carbohydrate food and drink you consume. You need a steady supply of glucose each day to fuel your body. Insulin, a hormone made by your pancreas, assists the glucose to move from the bloodstream into the cells of your body to be used for energy.


In diabetes, the pancreas cannot make enough insulin or the insulin it does make does not work properly.  As glucose needs insulin to move easily into the cells, the lack of insulin results in a build-up of glucose in the blood stream. This is known as 'hyperglycaemia' or high blood glucose. Over time, high glucose levels can damage the body's blood vessels and nerves, leading to long term consequences such as heart, kidney and eye disease, and nerve damage in the feet.


There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes. Before people develop type 2 diabetes they often have what is known as a 'pre-diabetes' condition. Pre-diabetes occurs when the blood glucose level is higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Diabetes is diagnosed by a blood test arranged by your doctor.


Type 1 diabetes  

Type 2 diabetes

Gestational diabetes



Understanding the different kinds of diabetes can help you understand the symptoms and treatment available. People can live well with diabetes, although there is currently no cure.  


1. Diabetes Australia website (Feb 2016) 

2. Diabetes Australia website (Feb, 2016),

3. Qld Chief Health Officer Report, "The Health of Queenslanders" media release, 2014,

4. NDSS, September 2015