A Patient Journey for Diabetes

The amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood is controlled by insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. When food is digested and enters your bloodstream, insulin moves glucose out of the blood and into cells, where it's broken down to produce energy.

If you have diabetes, your body is unable to break down the glucose, either because there’s not enough insulin to move the glucose or the insulin produced doesn't work properly.

There are two main types of diabetes:

Type 1 diabetes - where the body's immune system attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin. Type 1 diabetes can develop quickly over days or weeks.

Type 2 diabetes - where the body doesn't produce enough insulin, or the body's cells don't react to it. Many people have type 2 diabetes for years without realising because the early symptoms tend to be general. In the UK, around 90% of all adults with diabetes have type 2.

What are the symptoms?

Common symptoms include:

  • feeling very thirsty, particularly when combined with some of the following symptoms
  • urinating more frequently than usual, particularly at night
  • feeling very tired
  • weight loss and loss of muscle bulk
  • cuts or wounds that heal slowly
  • blurred vision

In the UK, between 10% and 20% of people recently diagnosed with diabetes will experience peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage), which develops in both feet and legs and also in the hands and arms and can lead to numbness or a tingling sensation.

It is important that you visit your GP as soon as possible if you experience any of these symptoms.

Treatments and living with diabetes

If you're diagnosed with diabetes, you'll need to eat healthily, take regular exercise and carry out regular blood tests to ensure your blood glucose levels stay balanced.

Type 1 diabetes

As type 1 diabetes is a long-term condition, you'll be in regular contact with your diabetes care team.

You will probably need insulin injections usually given by an injection pen and, when you're first diagnosed, your diabetes care team will help you with them, before showing you how and when to do it yourself, how to store your insulin and dispose of needles properly. They may also teach close friends or relatives how to inject the insulin properly.

An alternative is an insulin pump - a small device attached to you by a thin piece of tubing and a needle and is inserted under your skin, allowing insulin to continuously flow into your bloodstream at a rate you can control.

Type 2 diabetes

If you have type 2 diabetes, you'll need to look after your health for the rest of your life, making changes where necessary. Your GP will explain how your diabetes care team will be able to give you support and advice, including the following key areas:

Eating a balanced diet is very important. The good news is you don't need to avoid certain foods altogether, just have a varied diet and make healthy choices. Aim to reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar you eat, while increasing the amount of fibre. Eat regularly, include starchy carbohydrates, such as pasta, and include plenty of fruit and vegetables.

A well-balanced diet means you will be able to achieve a good level of health and maintain a healthy weight.

Regular moderate aerobic activity totalling two and a half hours a week e.g. cycling or fast walking, will lower your blood glucose level. But, before starting a new activity, your GP will want to discuss it with you first. Exercise affects your blood glucose level and they may decide to adjust your insulin treatment or diet.

In addition to diet, your GP will want to discuss other issues:

If you have diabetes, your risk of developing a cardiovascular disease is increased if you are a smoker. Men with diabetes are also advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week.

There are several other symptoms of diabetes that are specific to men:

Unexplained muscle loss.

Men with diabetes are three times more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction (impotence) than those without diabetes and the problem may indicate undiagnosed diabetes.

Recurring genital thrush. This can be in the form of redness, swelling or itching around the penis, an unpleasant odour, a white curd-like appearance on the skin or soreness during sex.

Diabetes can cause retrograde ejaculation, where semen is released into the bladder. This may lead to noticeably less semen being released during ejaculation or cloudy urine following an orgasm.

Diabetic Eye Screening

If you have diabetes you are at greater risk of a condition called diabetic retinopathy, which could lead to sight loss if it’s not treated. If you are over the age of 12 and have been confirmed as having diabetes, you should be eligible for an eye test annually. A machine is used to look at, and examine the back of the eye specifically used to detect the condition. If you believe you should be having such a test, speak to your optician who should be able to provide you with more information.

Your GP or diabetes care team can give you further advice on all these topics and further information and advice can be found on the talkhealth:

Online Clinic on Diabetes

talkhealth diabetes blog

talkhealth supports the following diabetes charities:

Diabetes UK

Sources used in writing this article are available on request.

Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 20 September 2017

Next review: 20 September 2020