Diabetes is a common condition that causes glucose (sugar) levels in the blood to become too high. This is called hyperglycaemia.
Clinically reviewed by:
Dr Mataroria Lyndon on 16.12.2021


Also known as: Mate Huka

  • Diabetes is a common condition that causes glucose (sugar) levels in the blood to become too high. This is called hyperglycaemia.
  • Too much glucose in the blood for too long causes damage to many different body systems including your heart, eyes, blood vessels, nerves, kidneys,  feet and others. Because of this diabetes increases the risk of problems such as strokes, heart attacks, and blindness.
  • Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that controls glucose levels.
  • There are two different types of diabetes, type 1 and type 2. People with type 1 diabetes are unable to produce enough insulin. People with type 2 diabetes aren’t able to produce enough insulin, and the cells in the body don't recognise the insulin that is present.
  • About 90% of people with diabetes have type 2 – it’s very common in New Zealand. Many people have it for years without realising.
  • A simple blood test can tell you if you have diabetes.

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What causes diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes:
  • Type 1 diabetes is considered an autoimmune condition that is caused by a combination of genetics and environmental conditions.
  • Not a lot is currently known about the environmental triggers that can bring on type 1 diabetes. It can develop at any age and triggers vary from person to person.
  • Once type 1 diabetes is triggered, the immune system starts to attack insulin-making cells (known as beta cells) until there are none left. This can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years.
Type 2 diabetes:
  • Type 2 diabetes is a condition that develops over time, where a person’s body becomes resistant to the insulin it’s producing. Sometimes when this happens, the pancreas becomes exhausted and stops producing as much insulin.
  • Obesity, smoking and poor diet and exercise habits can all play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes.  

Genetic factors are also important. Certain groups of people are more at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

  • Diabetes, especially type 2, is more common in males rather than females.
  • Māori, Pasifika and Indo-Asian males aged 35+
  • Māori, Pasifika and Indo-Asian females aged 45+
Pre-existing diabetes:
  • When a person has either type 1 or type 2 diabetes before getting pregnant, this is called pre-existing diabetes.
  • As long as a healthy blood-glucose level is maintained before and during the pregnancy, the baby is just as likely to be delivered safely.
Gestational diabetes:
  • Diabetes can develop during pregnancy  (in 4–8% of pregnancies). This is called gestational diabetes.
  • This needs to be monitored quite closely and managed throughout the pregnancy to protect both parent and baby.
  • Usually, gestational diabetes goes away after your baby is born, but increases your risk for type 2 diabetes later in life.



In adults

Often there are no symptoms, but diabetes can cause

  • feeling very thirsty
  • peeing a lot, especially at night
  • feeling very tired
  • blurred vision
  • Frequent urinary infections, skin infections or thrush.
  • cuts and grazes healing slowly.
In children
  • The symptoms and treatment for Type 1 diabetes in children is the same as for adults.
  • Most children who have diabetes will have type 1.
  • Type 2 diabetes is uncommon in children, but it can develop with obesity and an unhealthy lifestyle.



For adults
Type 1 diabetes
  • People with type 1 diabetes need to inject themselves with replacement insulin because their body no longer  naturally make it.
  • Patients also need to pay close attention to their intake of carbohydrates and monitor their blood glucose levels frequently to ensure they remain at a safe level.
  • Maintaining a healthy diet, a good exercise regime and a normal body weight also helps to manage type 1 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes
  • Type 2 diabetes can be improved, and sometimes even reversed,  with lifestyle changes such as weight loss, a healthy diet and exercise.
  • Medication is usually required if lifestyle changes alone aren’t successful.
  • High blood pressure and cholesterol impact type 2 diabetes, so quitting smoking and maintaining a healthy lifestyle with nutrition and exercise can help to manage this. These will also benefit heart health.
For children
  • Treatment for Type 1 diabetes in children is the same as for adults.
  • Type 1 diabetes can be managed with insulin, which is injected daily.
  • Tablets such as Metformin are used to help lower blood glucose levels for patients with type 2 diabetes. Insulin injections may also be needed if your blood glucose levels remain uncontrolled.
Proactive protection
  • Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent type 1 diabetes but type 2 diabetes can be prevented.
  • Pre-diabetes is when someone has higher than average blood glucose levels, but not high enough that they’ve developed type 2 diabetes.
  • 1 in 4 New Zealanders over 15 years old will be diagnosed as pre-diabetic.
  • This condition can be reversed with weight loss, a healthy diet and frequent exercise.
Nutritional requirements
  • Low-fat, low-sugar, high-fibre diet, low processed foods


Should I see a doctor?

  • If you or your child start showing symptoms, you should see a doctor.
  • Getting tested for diabetes is straight-forward and it’s always best to get a diagnosis (or rule it out) sooner rather than later.


How long does diabetes last?

  • Once a patient develops Type 1 diabetes, they have it for life and it can be treated
  • There is no known cure for type 2 diabetes. But it can be controlled. And in some cases, it can be reversed. For some people, a diabetes-healthy lifestyle or losing weight is enough to control their blood sugar levels.