What is diabetes?
Diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases in the Netherlands, as well as a being a leading cause of foot and leg amputations. According to the Diabetes Fund, 1.1 million Dutch people suffer from diabetes, with no fewer than 1,000 new diabetes patients emerging every week. In Belgium, about 1 in 12 adults are affected, based on figures of the Belgian Diabetes League.
Please note: we are not doctors. Therefore, the content on our website is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult your physician with questions about diabetes and never ignore professional medical advice.
Your blood sugar level indicates how much blood sugar is in your blood at any given time. Diabetes is a chronic disease which causes elevated blood sugar levels. This can have two reasons: either your body is not making enough insulin or the insulin that is being made is not working properly. There are several types of diabetes, the most common of which are type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes often develops at an early age. With this type, the body does not produce any insulin at all, because the immune system attacks the cells that produce insulin. In the Netherlands and Belgium, type 1 diabetes occurs in less than 10% of all diabetes patients. With this form of diabetes, it is very important to start injecting insulin immediately.
Type 2 diabetes
Most people with diabetes suffer from type 2 diabetes. With this form of diabetes, the body can produce insulin, but not in sufficient quantities. On top of that, the insulin that is produced does not work optimally. Hereditary predisposition plays a role in developing type 2 diabetes, but an unhealthy lifestyle also has a significant impact. Some people with diabetes will need to inject insulin, but most people are first given medication and lifestyle recommendations such as eating a healthy diet and getting enough exercise.
Diabetes is often difficult to recognise. Symptoms of type 1 diabetes include frequent urination, thirst, rapid weight loss and fatigue. These symptoms often occur very suddenly and severely. The symptoms of type 2 diabetes are often less noticeable and tend to develop gradually, making this type more difficult to recognise. As a result, people often find out by chance that they have this type of diabetes. Some symptoms include frequent thirst, frequent urination, wounds that heal poorly, leg pain when walking, and recurring infections.
If you recognise these symptoms, please see your GP. A simple blood test will quickly tell you if you may have diabetes.
Insulin keeps your blood sugar at the correct level. After you eat something, your body starts breaking down certain nutrients from your food, before converting them into blood sugar, or glucose. When the pancreas senses that your blood sugar levels are elevated, it produces insulin, which allows glucose to be absorbed by all the cells in your body. If the body cannot produce insulin itself, it is important to inject insulin or use an insulin pump.
Risk of amputation
People with diabetes are at high risk of developing foot problems, or a so-called diabetic foot. Constricted blood vessels, poorer circulation and nerve damage combine to reduce sensation in the foot, which means that minor wounds can give rise to serious infections if you do not notice them in time. Diabetics are even at an increased risk of needing a toe, foot or leg amputation, if the infection cannot be stopped or the damage cannot be repaired. To find out how to reduce this risk, please read our article: Preventing amputation with diabetes.