What is diabetes?

Key points about diabetes

  • Diabetes (mate huka) is a condition where the level of glucose (a type of sugar) in your blood is too high.
  • If not controlled, high blood glucose levels eventually lead to damage in many parts of your body.
  • The amount glucose in your blood is controlled by several different hormones but the main one is insulin.
  • When you have diabetes, your body is either unable to produce insulin or can't respond properly to the insulin that it does produce.
  • This page provides general information about diabetes. 
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Video: Diabetes

The video below describes how diabetes, glucose and insulin work in type 2 diabetes. This video may take a few moments to load.
(Visual GP, NZ, 2015)

Video: 1a Diabetes - Overview & Symptoms

Experts explain what diabetes is and the symptoms it causes and Annette talks about her experience with diabetes. This video may take a few moments to load.

 

(Health Navigator Charitable Trust and Synergy Film, NZ, 2014)

After a meal, the food you eat is broken down into smaller units, including glucose. Some of this glucose is used immediately as fuel and the rest is stored for use later. Some parts of your body, in particular the brain, must have a good supply of glucose to function properly.

Insulin is a hormone produced by your pancreas. When the amount of glucose in your blood increases, the pancreas releases more insulin. When the level of glucose in your blood falls again, the amount of insulin also falls.

Insulin acts like a key, unlocking a channel to allow glucose from food to move from your blood into your body's cells. Insulin also makes your body store glucose in your liver and muscles. If there is not enough insulin, or it is not working well, glucose builds up in your bloodstream because it isn't able to enter the cells to be used as an energy source. 

With diabetes, your body doesn't produce enough insulin to keep the amount of glucose in your blood at the right level. This can be due to your body not making enough insulin (known as insulin deficiency), not responding to insulin as it should (known as insulin resistance) or a combination of both of these.

The causes of type two diabetes, risks and what you can do to prevent getting diabetes.

Video: 1B Diabetes Overview - Causes

This video may take a few moments to load.

(Health Navigator Charitable Trust and Synergy Film, NZ, 2014)

The normal level of glucose in the blood is between 4 and 8 mmol/L. When blood glucose levels are higher than this, your body uses glucose as fuel and stores the extra glucose for use later. When the blood glucose levels are lower than this, your body will release glucose from your liver so it can be used as fuel.

If the level of glucose in your blood is too high, hyperglycaemia (high blood glucose) can occur. Symptoms depend on how high or how quickly the level changes. The se symptoms can include being really thirsty/hiainu, needing to pee/mimi lots and blurred vision. Most people don't know they have high blood glucose unless they have a blood test. Long term, high glucose levels cause damage to your eyes, kidneys, blood vessels, heart and feet. 

If the level of glucose in your blood drops too low, hypoglycaemia or a ‘hypo’ can occur. You may feel sweaty, weak and dizzy. You need some glucose right away. Low blood sugar can be dangerous if it's not treated promptly, but you can usually treat it easily yourself. Read more about hypoglycaemia

Type 1 diabetes  

The main problem in type 1 diabetes is that the insulin-making cells in your pancreas are destroyed so it can’t make enough insulin. Type 1 diabetes often starts in childhood and can appear with little warning. About 10% of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes. Read more about type 1 diabetes, including causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and self-care.

Type 2 diabetes

The main problem in type 2 diabetes is that your body can’t use insulin effectively. The insulin-making cells in your pancreas can produce insulin, but the insulin isn’t able to work well because the cells in your body no longer respond to its effects Insulin resistance). Sometimes, the pancreas becomes exhausted. This leads to not enough insulin production on top of the problem of insulin resistance. About 90% of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. 

Read more about type 2 diabetes, including causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, prevention and self-care.

Pre-diabetes is when your blood glucose level is higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. Pre-diabetes and insulin resistance can be related to obesity and being overweight. About 1 in 4 New Zealanders aged 15 or over are affected by type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes can be prevented or improved by making lifestyle changes, eg, making healthy food and drink choices and exercising regularly. Doing these things will help you to keep a
healthy body weight which is important in the management of diabetes and for your long-term health.

Read more about pre-diabetes, including causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, prevention and self-care. 

If you have diabetes (type 1 or type 2) before you get pregnant it is known as pre-existing diabetes and pregnancy. This is different from gestational diabetes, which is a kind of diabetes that some women get during pregnancy. 

Pre-existing diabetes and pregnancy

Having high blood glucose levels because of type 1 or type 2 diabetes can affect all stages of pregnancy, from conception to delivery. But, if you maintain healthy blood glucose levels before and during your pregnancy, you have the same chance of delivering a healthy baby as other women. Read more about diabetes and pregnancy, including advice for preparing for and managing diabetes during pregnancy.

 

Gestational diabetes 

Gestational diabetes is when a pregnant woman who wasn't known to have diabetes before pregnancy develops high blood glucose levels during pregnancy. It affects about 4–8% of pregnant women. It needs to be managed carefully to improve the health of mum and pēpi/baby. Gestational diabetes usually goes away after having the baby but can progress to type 2 diabetes, so regular check-ups are recommended. Read more about gestational diabetes, including causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, prevention and self-care.

If an adult has symptoms of high blood glucose/hyperglycaemia or insulin deficiency (needing to pee/mimi often, increased thirst/hiainu, sudden weight loss, recurrent infections), a blood test can confirm whether you have diabetes.

A blood test called an HbA1c measures the amount of glucose that has built up in your blood over a 3-month period. A high HbA1c result (or two if you do not have any symptoms of diabetes) confirms the diagnosis. In most cases no other test is necessary, but tests to measure the amount of glucose in your blood may also be used. Read more about the HbA1c test.

In the past, urine tests were used to diagnose diabetes, but these are unreliable and no longer used.

The diagnosis of diabetes in children is slightly different. If symptoms are present, a finger prick test to measure the level of glucose and ketones in the blood can be done by your healthcare provider straight away. 

Video: 2A Diabetes - Living well with diabetes & coping skills

Structured problem solving and diabetes self-management programmes can help you take control of your health once again. This video may take a few moments to load.

(Health Navigator Charitable Trust and Synergy Film, NZ, 2014)

Video: 2B Diabetes - Living well & the importance of keeping active

Regular physical exercise is key to living well with diabetes. This video may take a few moments to load.


(Health Navigator Charitable Trust and Synergy Film, NZ, 2014)

Video: 2C Diabetes - Healthy Eating

Eating right and balancing your diet with activity can help with diabetes. This video may take a few moments to load.

(Health Navigator Charitable Trust and Synergy Film, NZ, 2014)

New Zealand Sign Language videos about diabetes, produced by Platform Trust, in partnership with Deafradio and Healthify He Puna Waiora.

These videos are NZSL translations of Healthify pages on diabetes.

On this page, you can find NZSL videos about:

  • Diabetes – overview
  • What is insulin?
  • What is normal, high, and low blood glucose?
  • What is the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

Video: Diabetes – overview

This video may take a few moments to load.


(Platform Trust, in partnership with Deafradio and Healthify He Puna Waiora, 2022)

Video: What is insulin?

This video may take a few moments to load.


(Platform Trust, in partnership with Deafradio and Healthify He Puna Waiora, 2022)
Read our insulin information above.

Video: Diabetes – What is normal, high, and low blood glucose?

This video may take a few moments to load.


(Platform Trust, in partnership with Deafradio and Healthify He Puna Waiora, 2022)
Read our blood glucose information above.

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

This video may take a few moments to load.


(Platform Trust, in partnership with Deafradio and Healthify He Puna Waiora 2022)

Type 1 Diabetes self-management courses

Type 1 Diabetes

Diabetes self-management education

Brief description

Range of courses covering basics about diabetes

Organisations

Multiple organisations, including local primary health organisations, district health boards and community organisations such as Diabetes NZ and Diabetes Auckland

Who is this for?

People with type 1 diabetes and their families

Contact details

Ask your GP what is available in your area or you can contact the organisations directly.

Specific diabetes courses

Courses are often run through local PHO and DHBs. Ask your GP clinic.
You can also contact your local Diabetes NZ branch(external link) as they often run courses. Check for times and any cost.

Type 2 Diabetes self-management courses

Type 2 Diabetes

Diabetes self-management education

Brief description

Range of courses covering basics about diabetes

Organisations

Multiple organisations, including local primary health organisations, district health boards and community organisations such as Diabetes NZ and Diabetes Auckland

Who is this for?

People with type 2 diabetes and their families

Contact details

Ask your GP what is available in your area or you can contact the organisations directly.

Regions

Living well with type 2 diabetes – by region:

  • Auckland DHB Auckland PHO(external link) provides diabetes self-management classes for central Auckland from Avondale to Panmure and city to Hillsborough. Phone 09 379 4022

  • Auckland wide

    • ProCare Health(external link) has a range of self-management programmes running across wider Auckland. Anyone is welcome. Contact the team at life@procare.co.nz or phone 09 354 7770 or call or text 027 339 5740
    • Comprehensive Care(external link) Contact the team at DSME@comprehensivecare.co.nz or phone:09 448 0091
  • Waitematā DHB also provides courses – check with your GP.

    • Waitematā PHO(external link) has a range of programmes, cooking demonstrations and support. Contact them on 09 448 0019 or SME@comprehensivecare.co.nz.

    • ProCare Health(external link) Contact the self-management team at life@procare.co.nz or phone 09 354 7770, or call or text 027 535 8250. (No cost to practice, patient or carer.)

  • Counties Manukau DHB Most areas are covered – check with your GP.

  • Nelson/Marlborough DHB

  • Hutt Valley DHB

    • Te Awakairangi Health Network(external link) provides a free diabetes self-management programme for people living with type 2 diabetes who are registered with a Hutt Valley GP practice. Programmes are held across the Hutt Valley region.
    • Contact Libby on phone 576 8616 or at libby.s@teahn.org.nz for more information or to enrol in a programme.
  • Other regions 

    • Check with your GP or let us know

Diabetes NZ(external link) provides information and support for people with diabetes. Their website contains information about recognizing and living well with diabetes.

Some useful links:

Are you at risk?(external link) 
What is diabetes?(external link) 
Find your local team(external link)  

Brochures

Apps/Tools

Type 2 diabetes risk calculator - Diabetes Auckland NZ(external link)(external link)
BMI calculator

References

Diabetes diagnosis(external link) Midland Community HealthPathways, NZ (logon required)

Brochures



Staying well with type 2 diabetes
Diabetes NZ
English, Chinese, Hindi(external link)

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Credits: Healthify editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust

Reviewed by: Claire Salter, Pharmacist, Tauranga

Last reviewed:

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