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Diabetes is the fastest growing health problem in this country, affecting over one million Australians of all ages.

Sebastian Stead

Diabetes is the fastest growing health problem in this country, affecting over one million Australians of all ages. It is estimated that someone develops diabetes every 5 minutes.

The prevalence of diabetes is around twice as high among those living in the lowest socioeconomic areas compared to those in the highest socioeconomic areas; and Indigenous Australians are almost 3 times as likely to have diabetes compared to non-Indigenous Australians.

There are three types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 (insulin dependent),
  • Type 2 (impacted by lifestyle factors) and
  • Gestational (affects 1 in 20 pregnancies).

Type 1 Diabetes (Insulin Dependent)

The body’s immune system creates antibodies that target and destroy the insulin producing or beta cells in the pancreas. It often occurs before the age of 40 and can be life-threatening if not properly managed. Type 1 diabetics need to regularly test their blood glucose levels and provide their body with insulin via injection or infusion pump.

The key to treating Type 1 diabetes is to closely monitor blood glucose levels, which involves a finger prick several times a day and placing a small drop of blood into a machine that monitors blood glucose levels. Treatment will also involve providing your body with the insulin that the pancreas is unable to produce. Insulin can be delivered via injection or infusion pump to enable the body to convert the glucose in the blood to energy required for everyday activity

While many Type 1 diabetics are well controlled with a good diet, regular monitoring and administration of insulin there are a few who are poorly controlled. Brittle or unstable diabetes results in wild swings in blood glucose levels – from very high to dangerously low. Sufferers develop hypoglycaemic unawareness where they no longer have symptoms of low blood glucose levels, which can result in coma and death if untreated. In this group of patients islet cell transplantation can be an effective treatment and in some cases patients can have their diabetes “cured” where they no longer require daily insulin injections to control their disease.

Islet cell transplant involves taking the insulin producing pancreatic beta cells from a deceased donor, purifying and processing the cells and infusing into the recipient’s liver via the portal vein. In some cases a second infusion of donor cells may be required to produce the desired results.

Type 2 Diabetes

The body either doesn’t produce the required amount of insulin or the body’s cells don’t react to insulin. Many Type 2 Diabetics can control the disease through maintaining a healthy diet, taking regular exercise and monitoring their blood glucose levels.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes affects 1 in 20 women during pregnancy most commonly in their second trimester. The body can often not produce enough insulin to cope with high levels of circulating blood glucose. It can affect the developing baby so it needs close monitoring by your doctor. Often women who have gestational diabetes go on to develop type 2 diabetes later in life.

Common symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Constant or unusual thirst
  • Needing to pass urine more often
  • Being hungry
  • Tiredness or lethargy
  • Itchy skin
  • Blurred vision
  • Poor healing of cuts or sores
  • Mood swings
  • Headaches

It is best to have a regular check-up with your GP to maintain good health and ensure early detection of any serious illness.