Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Bryony Henderson

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

Diabetes, or diabetes mellitus, is a condition where your blood sugar levels are too high. This can cause you to need the toilet a lot and feeling thirsty. Read on to learn more.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition in which your blood sugar levels are too high. This can be caused by different factors in different types of diabetes. 

Type 1 diabetes

People with type 1 diabetes have high blood sugar levels because their bodies are unable to produce enough of the hormone that controls blood glucose. This is because the immune system attacks the cells that produce insulin. 

Type 2 diabetes

Insulin is a hormone made in our pancreas, and we need it to regulate our blood sugar levels. Type 2 diabetes is where this insulin cannot work properly, or your pancreas is not able to make enough insulin. This means your blood sugar levels keep rising.

Gestational diabetes

This is a type of diabetes you get during pregnancy. This is when your body has high blood sugar levels and your body can’t produce enough insulin to counter it.


Prediabetes is when your blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to diagnose type 2 diabetes. It may be reversible with lifestyle changes if it's caught early.

What is the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

In type 1 diabetes your body doesn’t produce enough insulin, whereas in type 2 diabetes your body doesn’t respond to insulin. In addition, type 2 diabetes is related to your lifestyle more than type 1.

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

Symptoms of diabetes are similar in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes but symptoms of type 2 diabetes appear more gradually than type 1.

The main symptoms and signs of diabetes include:

  • Feeling very thirsty

  • Peeing a lot, especially during the night

  • Feeling tired and weak

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Feeling hungrier than normal

  • Blurred vision

  • Fruity smelling breath

  • Cuts and grazes that are slow to heal

  • Repeated infections

It is important to see a doctor as soon as possible if you notice any of these symptoms.

How common is diabetes?

Diabetes is a common condition – 1 in 15 people have diabetes in the UK.

What causes diabetes?

Diabetes has many causes depending on the type of diabetes you have. 

In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks cells in the pancreas that make insulin, preventing them from producing it. Scientists aren’t sure exactly why this happens, but it’s thought to be linked to genetics and certain viruses. 

In type 2 diabetes, your body doesn’t respond to insulin properly. This can be caused by a number of reasons – a poor diet, lack of exercise, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and excessive alcohol intake are all associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Sometimes, making lifestyle changes can help treat type 2 diabetes. 

Who is at risk of diabetes?

You are at a higher risk of diabetes if:

  • A family member has diabetes

  • You are overweight

  • You have a poor diet

  • You do a small amount of exercise

How is diabetes diagnosed?

Your doctor will diagnose you with diabetes by first asking you a few questions about your symptoms.

You may be asked to do some tests, which could include:

  • Blood tests – this will check your HbA1c levels. These levels look at your blood sugar over the last 2 or 3 months. You may also be checked for your fasting blood sugar, glucose tolerance test and a random blood sugar test

  • Urine tests – this looks at sugar levels in your pee

How to treat diabetes

Different types of diabetes are treated slightly differently but they all aim to lower your blood sugar levels.

If you have type 1 diabetes, you will be given insulin injections to help control your blood sugar levels. 

If you have type 2 diabetes, you may first be advised to change your lifestyle to improve your condition. This includes having a healthier diet, exercising more often and maintaining a healthy weight. However, if this doesn’t control your sugar levels properly, you may be given some medication. There are lots of medicines that can be used to help type 2. diabetes including metformin and gliclazide. 

When should I seek help?

If you have any of the main symptoms of diabetes, it is important to get in contact with your doctor.

How can Livi help?

A Livi doctor will make an individual assessment based on your symptoms. You may then be given treatment or referred for specialist care.


Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi