Frequently asked questions

What are the types of diabetes?

The two main types of diabetes are type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes.

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy and usually goes away after the birth of the baby.

Pre-diabetes is a condition that occurs when the blood glucose level is higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. If left untreated, people with pre-diabetes are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

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Call Diabetes NSW on 1300 342 238 for more information

What is pre-diabetes?

Pre-diabetes is the stage leading to type 2 diabetes, when blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. For many people it means the diabetes clock has started ticking. Type 2 diabetes is characterised by the body not producing enough insulin or not using it properly. Insulin is needed to help move glucose from the bloodstream into the cells for energy. During the pre-diabetes stage, cells are becoming resistant to insulin with the result that blood glucose levels begin to rise.

How do you know you have pre-diabetes?

Unfortunately you cannot know from symptoms because at this stage there are no symptoms or warning signs. But you can work out your own risk of pre-diabetes by answering some simple questions. If you are overweight or obese, over 55, have a family history of diabetes or lead a sedentary, physically inactive lifestyle, you are a candidate for type 2 diabetes and should discuss it with your GP.

What are the risks to your health?

Any rise in blood glucose levels must be taken seriously because it may indicate pre-diabetes. Pre-diabetes is itself a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes as well as increasing your risk of heart disease. Left unmanaged, it may well develop into diabetes within 5 to 10 years. The life threatening complications of diabetes are heart attacks, kidney failure, blindness, amputation and stroke.

Can you prevent diabetes?

If you are talking about type 2 diabetes, the good news is yes, you can prevent or delay progressing from pre-diabetes to type 2 diabetes. This can be done by changing your lifestyle. A number of landmark studies in the United States, Finland and China have shown that aiming for a modest weight loss of up to 7% and increasing physical activity to at least 30 minutes most days of the week can significantly reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The studies showed that people at risk of type 2 diabetes were able to reduce their risk by nearly 60%. Most people who are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese so weight loss is an important first step. In the case of type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune disease, there is currently no method of prevention.

Who are most at risk of pre-diabetes?

People who are overweight, have a family history of diabetes, are over the age of 55, do little or no physical activity and women who had gestational diabetes in pregnancy or have polycystic ovarian syndrome are at risk and should speak to their doctor about these risk factors at their next visit. Other high-risk people are Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islanders, Chinese, Pacific Islanders or from the Indian subcontinent. Lifestyle is now strongly linked to diabetes. 80% to 90% of people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese. Six out of ten Australians are considered significantly overweight and the increasing prevalence of obesity in children has become a major health concern. That’s why early intervention is critical. It’s equally important for those people who already have diabetes to be put on a management program early to prevent complications.

Will everyone with pre-diabetes go on to develop Type 2 diabetes?

It’s estimated that more than 16% or about two million Australians have pre-diabetes and research shows that a third or more of people with the condition will go on to develop the disease. The rate of development of diabetes from pre diabetes is about 5 to 10 % annually.

What do you do if you have pre-diabetes?

A diagnosis of pre-diabetes gives you a chance to prevent a life-threatening illness. You can do something about it with changes to your lifestyle. Losing excess weight through a healthy diet and exercise can improve the body’s ability to use insulin and to process glucose more efficiently. Most adult Australians are overweight and most don’t engage in regular physical activity, yet research shows that moderate weight loss and an exercise program of 30 minutes five times a week can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by nearly 60%. Exercise helps reduce blood glucose levels directly. A healthy diet means making healthier food choices. Eat fewer foods containing saturated fats such as butter and fatty meats and have more fruit, vegetables and fibre on a daily basis. Because it takes a serious commitment to a lifestyle change, you need to make adjustments in your daily routine that are sustainable, so speak to you doctor.

If I have pre-diabetes, should I check my BGL regularly?

Your doctor will arrange for the frequency of BGL testing. In general, a person with pre-diabetes does not need to check his or her BGLs at home, as do many people who have diabetes. Follow up BGL tests and oral glucose tests will be arranged, as required, by your local doctor, to test for any important changes in your BGL over time.

What are Blood Glucose Levels?

Blood glucose is a simple sugar in the blood and the levels change with eating and physical activity. Levels outside normal fluctuations may need further investigation.

What is ‘BGL’?

BGL stands for Blood Glucose Level. ‘Be Well -Know Your BGL’ puts awareness of blood glucose in the same context as cholesterol and blood pressure. Just as cholesterol levels and blood pressure levels are a measure of health, so is our Blood Glucose Level.

Why is it important to know your BGL?

BGL is an important indicator of your health in the same way as cholesterol or blood pressure. Knowing your BGL helps you control your health and, if it’s too high, you can do something about it. In the same way, if someone is diagnosed with high blood pressure, it can be managed with treatment.

What do blood glucose levels indicate?

If your blood glucose levels are too high you could be on the way to serious health problems. A significant fact with type 2 diabetes is that many people, when they are diagnosed, have had the disease for some time and didn’t know it. A common response from people who have just been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes is: ‘I wish I’d known about blood glucose levels and diabetes a long time ago. Why didn’t someone tell me about it?’

You need to know as soon as possible that your blood glucose levels are starting to rise – because this is the time you can delay or prevent type 2 diabetes. Even if you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, it is vital to start an effective management program as soon as possible to prevent chronic complications.

Why do you use the phrase Blood Glucose Level rather than blood sugar level?

Using the phrase Blood Glucose Level gives us the chance to put the record straight. We want to end the myth that sugar causes diabetes. Sugar-free diets used to be recommended for people with diabetes and they weren’t much fun. However, research into the nutritional management of diabetes over the last two decades has proven that many sugars and sugary foods are slowly absorbed into the blood, whereas many starches and starchy foods are rapidly absorbed. The Glycemic Index – or G.I. – is a way of ranking carbohydrate foods according to their effect on blood glucose levels. Another term commonly used which is related to GI is the glycaemic load, which takes into account the amount of food as well as the GI of the food.

Carbohydrate foods that are slowly absorbed into the blood are said to have a low G.I., and foods that are rapidly absorbed have a high G.I. Diabetes NSW recommends that people with diabetes choose at least one serve of a low G.I. food at each meal and snack.

Do many people know their Blood Glucose Levels?

Most people do not know their BGL. Our surveys of at-risk people show that 73% know their cholesterol, 86% know their blood pressure, but only 35% know their BGL. But, at the same time, people want to know more and be more responsible for their health. The majority of people, 88%, wanted to know their BGL.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic disease characterised by high blood glucose levels resulting from the body not producing insulin or using it properly. Insulin is a hormone that converts food (starches and sugar) into energy. There are two major types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 is an autoimmune disease in which the body does not produce any insulin. It is most often diagnosed in children. People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin injections every day to stay alive. Type 1 accounts for 10%-15% of diabetes.
  • Type 2 is a metabolic disorder resulting from the body’s inability to make enough insulin or properly use it. Type 2 accounts for 85%-90% of people with diabetes and is strongly linked to lifestyle factors such as obesity, lack of physical activity and poor eating habits. Genetic factors also largely contribute to type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately, for the first time in Australia, children are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, another result of lifestyle factors.

How widespread is diabetes in Australia?

Diabetes is the fastest growing chronic disease in Australia. More than 1.1 million people already have diabetes. The concern is that half of them don’t know they have it – yet. Every week 1,200 people are diagnosed with diabetes. That’s an average of 60,000 a year. Diabetes NSW expects the number of Australians with diabetes to climb to 1.8 million over the next eight years. It’s a gathering storm threatening to overtake all of us. That’s why we want to encourage people to be alert to pre-diabetes and know their BGL.

Is diabetes that serious?

It’s a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease such as heart attack and stroke, as well as kidney failure, blindness and amputations. It is the second most common cause of kidney failure that requires dialysis treatment Australia. It is the most common cause of blindness for people under the age of 60. There are eight limb amputations a day in Australia due to diabetes complications. Unmanaged, Diabetes can potentially take more.

 How is diabetes treated, and is there a cure?

Currently, there is no cure for type 1 diabetes, but it can be treated successfully by administering insulin, by either an injection or pump, and by following a healthy, balanced diet and getting regular physical activity. Looking after diabetes requires planning and attention.  This may feel over-whelming at times, especially when your child is first diagnosed. However, there’s no reason for it to stop your child living the healthy, happy and successful life you had hoped for them.

For more information, contact Diabetes NSW on 1300 342 238.