Understanding Diabetes: Symptoms, Complications, and Testing Methods

When eating, the body breaks down most of the food into sugar (glucose) and releases it into the bloodstream. When blood sugar goes up, it signals the pancreas to release insulin. Insulin acts like a key to let the blood sugar into the body’s cells for use as energy. If a person has diabetes, their body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use the insulin it makes as well as it should. When there isn’t enough insulin or cells stop responding to insulin, too much blood sugar stays in the bloodstream. Over time, that can cause serious health problems.

Currently, there are over 5.6 million people in the UK are living with diabetes, an all-time high. Data shows that 4.4 million people in the UK have been diagnosed with diabetes. Additionally, 1.2 million people could be living with type 2 diabetes without yet being diagnosed. These registration figures for 2022-23 are up by 167,822 from 2021-22 (Diabetes UK, 2023).

Common symptoms of diabetes include frequent urination, excessive thirst, extreme hunger, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, blurry vision, slow-healing sores, and frequent infections. If not managed properly, diabetes can lead to serious complications. It increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, which can result in heart disease and stroke. Nerve damage, or neuropathy, is another complication where high blood sugar can injure nerves throughout your body. Kidney damage, known as nephropathy, can lead to kidney failure or irreversible end-stage kidney disease. Eye damage, or retinopathy, increases the risk of serious vision conditions, including cataracts and glaucoma. Poor blood flow and nerve damage in the feet can lead to various foot complications. Additionally, people with diabetes are more susceptible to skin problems, including bacterial and fungal infections.


Early detection and regular monitoring are essential in managing diabetes effectively. EUROIMMUN offers a range of advanced diagnostic tools. For Type 1 diabetes, we provide antibody tests that detect autoantibodies such as GAD, IA-2, and ZnT8, which can help predict the risk and onset of the disease.

Type 1 diabetes mellitus (T1DM) is an autoimmune disorder where insulin-producing β-cells in the pancreas are destroyed, leading to an inability to regulate blood sugar levels. Genetic factors and environmental triggers contribute to its development. Antibodies targeting pancreatic islet cells, such as GAD65, IA2, ZnT8, and insulin itself, play a critical role in the autoimmune response.

T1DM typically begins years before symptoms appear, characterised by insulitis, the infiltration of immune cells into pancreatic islets. Its onset, often during childhood or adolescence, necessitates lifelong insulin dependence. T1DM accounts for 5 to 10% of diabetes cases, with its global incidence rising annually.

Diagnostic tests, such as detecting islet cell antibodies, including GAD65, IA2, ZnT8, and insulin autoantibodies, aid in diagnosing T1DM. These antibodies often precede clinical symptoms, helping identify individuals at risk. Early diagnosis is vital for effective management and can be achieved through comprehensive antibody testing.

Additionally, HbA1c testing measures the average blood glucose levels over the past 2-3 months and is crucial for diagnosing and monitoring both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. The Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT) assesses how well the body metabolises glucose and is used for diagnosing gestational diabetes and Type 2 diabetes.

Prevention and Management of Diabetes

Preventing diabetes is an essential aspect of maintaining overall health and well-being. While some risk factors for diabetes, such as genetics, cannot be changed, there are several lifestyle modifications individuals can make to reduce their risk:

Healthy Eating: Adopting a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins while limiting the consumption of processed foods, sugary beverages, and high-fat snacks can significantly lower the risk of developing diabetes.

Regular Physical Activity: Engaging in regular exercise not only helps manage weight but also improves insulin sensitivity and lowers blood sugar levels.

Maintaining a Healthy Weight: Excess weight, particularly around the abdomen, increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight through a combination of balanced diet and regular exercise is crucial for diabetes prevention.

Avoiding Sedentary Behaviour: Limiting sedentary activities, such as prolonged sitting or screen time, can also contribute to diabetes prevention.

Moderate Alcohol Consumption: Excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Limiting alcohol intake to moderate levels, as recommended by healthcare professionals, can help reduce this risk.

Avoiding Smoking: Smoking is associated with an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, as well as other serious health conditions.

Regular Health Check-ups: Regular health check-ups with healthcare professionals can help monitor blood sugar levels and assess overall health. Individuals with risk factors for diabetes, such as family history or obesity, may benefit from more frequent screenings.

Early diagnosis and regular monitoring can help prevent or delay complications such as heart disease, nerve damage, and kidney failure, and maintain optimal blood glucose levels. This significantly enhances the quality of life for those living with diabetes.

Diabetes is a significant global health challenge, but with the right knowledge and tools, it can be managed effectively. Understanding the symptoms, recognising the complications, and utilising appropriate testing methods can make a substantial difference in early detection and management. Together, we can raise awareness and support those living with diabetes.

Early diagnosis and regular monitoring significantly enhance the quality of life for those living with diabetes by preventing or delaying complications such as heart disease, nerve damage, and kidney failure, while also maintaining optimal blood glucose levels. Diabetes poses a significant global health challenge, but with the right knowledge, tools, and awareness, it can be effectively managed. Understanding symptoms, recognising complications, and using appropriate testing methods are crucial steps in early detection and management, enabling us to support individuals living with diabetes.

Back to top