Diabetes advice

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Diabetes is a lifelong condition that causes a person's blood sugar level to become too high. There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2.


Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition caused by the immune system mistakenly killing cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.

Although type 1 diabetes can develop at any age, it’s usually diagnosed in childhood. Once diagnosed, those with type 1 will need to take insulin for the rest of their lives, usually through injections, using an insulin pen or an insulin pump. They’ll also need to regularly test their blood sugar levels.


Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes, with around 90% of all adults in the UK with diabetes having type 2. Type 2 diabetes develops when the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin, or the body’s cells don’t react to insulin. Type 2 symptoms often develop slowly over time. You can have type 2 diabetes for many years without knowing it. 

Diabetes can cause long-term health problems if it’s not well managed, so early diagnosis and treatment is very important. Make sure you’re aware of the symptoms and speak with your GP if you’re concerned.


There are two main types of diabetes, Type 1 and Type 2.  Type 2 diabetes is by far the most common and is on the rise in the UK. Diabetes can be a lifelong condition and it’s important to ensure that you know the symptoms, causes and how to manage your condition.

Symptoms of type 1 diabetes include:

  • Feeling very thirsty
  • Weeing more than usual, particularly at night
  • Feeling very tired
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Thrush that keeps coming back
  • Blurred vision
  • Cuts and grazes that heal slowly
  • Fruity-smelling breath

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes can have similar symptoms. Type 1 can develop quickly over weeks, or even days, whereas many people with type 2 can have it for years without realising because the early symptoms tend to be general in nature and develop gradually. 

It is not well known what the causes of type 1 diabetes are, although certain genes put people at a higher risk of developing the condition. There are other factors which are thought to be involved including environmental and viral triggers.

 Symptoms of type 2 diabetes include:

  • Feeling very thirsty
  • Weeing more than usual, particularly at night
  • Feeling very tired
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Experiencing recurring thrush
  • Blurred vision
  • Cuts and grazes that heal slowly

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes can have similar symptoms. Type 1 can develop quickly over weeks, or even days, whereas many people with type 2 can have it for years without realising because the early symptoms tend to be general in nature and develop gradually. 

Age - Your risk of diabetes increases as you get older. You're more likely to be diagnosed if you are over the age of 40, or 25 for south Asian people.

Being overweight or obese - Having a waist size of 80cm (31.5 inches) or more for women, or 94cm (37 inches) or more for men, can increase the risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. A diet that is high in sugar and fat can make it harder to manage your blood sugar levels. Many people have blood sugar levels above the normal range, but not high enough to be diagnosed as having diabetes. This is sometimes known as pre-diabetes. If your blood sugar level is above the normal range, your risk of developing full-blown diabetes is increased.

Family history - Type 2 diabetes may run in families. You are more likely to develop the condition if a close family member like your parent or a sibling have type 2 diabetes.

Ethnicity - Type 2 diabetes is more likely to develop if you are of Asian, African-Caribbean or black African descent (even if you were born in the UK).*

Previous gestational diabetes history - If you developed diabetes while you were pregnant, you are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes in the future. Further information about gestational diabetes is available in the 'other types of diabetes' section.

There is no cure for type 2 diabetes and it can be difficult to learn to live with the condition however, making lifestyle changes, such as making exercise a part of your daily routine and eating a healthy, balanced diet can help manage your blood sugar levels and lower your risk of heart disease.  Not treating type 2 diabetes means that high sugar levels in your blood can seriously damage parts of your body, including your eyes, heart and feet. But with the right treatment, you can live well with type 2 diabetes and reduce your risk of developing complications. 

Most people need medicine which could include tablets or injections including insulin to control their type 2 diabetes which helps keep blood sugar levels as normal as possible to prevent health problems. You may have to take medication for the rest of your life, although the type of medicine or dose may need to change over time. Your GP or diabetes nurse will recommend the medicines most suitable for you.

Your medicine might not make you feel any different, but this does not mean it's not working.  It's important to keep taking any prescribed medication you have, as advised by your doctor, to help prevent future health problems.

People with diabetes and high blood pressure are more at risk of having a heart attack or stroke. If your blood pressure is high, it is called hypertension.  Hypertension is a serious condition where your heart has to consistently work harder to pump blood around your body. If untreated, the arteries can stiffen and narrow, making it easier for fatty material to clog them up and cause heart and circulatory diseases or heart attack and stroke. More information on hypertension is available on the NHS website.** 

You can book a free NHS Blood Pressure Check Service*** which is available across 900 stores in England. It is possible to book a free blood pressure check via boots.com in 38 of the 900 of our stores that offer the service.


Another type of diabetes is gestational diabetes which develops during pregnancy. It’s often diagnosed from a blood test in the third trimester (between 24 and 28 weeks) and usually disappears after the baby is born. Although any pregnant person can develop gestational diabetes, you’re at an increased risk if:

  • Your body mass index (BMI) is above 30.
  • You have previously had a baby who weighed 4.5kg (10lb) or more at birth.
  • You had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy.
  • A parent or sibling has diabetes.
  • You are of South Asian, Black, African-Caribbean or Middle Eastern origin (even if you were born in the UK).

If any of these apply to you, you should be offered screening for gestational diabetes during your pregnancy. Speak to your midwife or GP for more information.

There are other types of diabetes, including type 3 diabetes, double diabetes, secondary diabetes and latent autoimmune diabetes of adulthood (diabetes LADA). Around two percent of those with diabetes have one of these other types.

Speak with your GP if you experience any diabetes symptoms, or if you have any of the risk factors outlined and you’re worried about developing diabetes in the future.

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How can a pharmacist help with diabetes?

NHS information about diabetes, including causes & how to live with it


There are many risk factors for type 2 diabetes including ethnicity, age and genetics. While the causes of insulin resistance are not always clear, a high body mass index can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Almost 90% of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight. Type 2 diabetes can put you at a greater risk of heart disease and stroke, kidney failure, nerve damage and blindness. Both medication and lifestyle factors like eating a healthy, balanced diet and exercise are needed to support and treat those with type 2 diabetes.

A HbA1c test is a blood test which tests your blood glucose (sugar) levels. When you have more glucose than you need, the excess binds to the hemoglobin in the red blood cells in your body. These red blood cells live for about three months, so the HbA1c test result is an average of your blood glucose levels over about two to three months. A HbA1c test can determine if you are prediabetic, and therefore at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes, or already diabetic. A HbA1c test may be useful if you:

  • Are over the age of 45.
  • Are under the age of 45 but living with other medical conditions, like heart disease or high blood pressure.
  • Are overweight or obese.
  • Have suffered with gestational diabetes in the past.

More healthcare advice, services & products. Your health, your way*

*Reference: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/diabetes/

**Reference: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/complicationshttps://www.nhs.uk/conditions/type-2-diabetes/

***Eligibility criteria apply. Subject to availability.

†Access test kits and prescription-only treatment is subject to an online consultation with a clinician to assess suitability. Subject to availability. Charges apply.

‡NHS prescription charges may apply. Free home delivery is only available to patients registered with a GP in England. Option to collect in-store is available for all customers registered with a participating GP anywhere in the UK.

§Subject to availability, England only, charges may apply.

‖Subject to availability. Eligibility criteria may apply. Charges may apply. 

Page last reviewed by Boots Pharmacy team on 24/05/2023

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