What is diabetes?

Understanding how diabetes works in our body


*Feltman was developed by Diabetes Australia – Victoria, in collaboration with the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (VACCHO) and Aboriginal Health Workers.
  • When you eat or drink, your body breaks down some of the food (foods that have carbohydrates like bread, rice, potato, cereals and lollies) into glucose (sugar), which then goes into your blood.
  • Then your pancreas makes a hormone called insulin. Insulin acts like a key to unlock your muscles and let the glucose (sugar) in to be used for energy.
  • Your body knows when you have eaten and have glucose (sugar) in your blood and it uses insulin to keep your blood glucose (sugar) level balanced.
  • Your body needs this glucose (sugar) for fuel to give your body energy to work.
  • When you have type 1 diabetes your pancreas does not make any insulin. People with type 1 diabetes need to inject insulin to get the sugar (glucose) into their muscles for energy.
  • When you have type 2 diabetes your pancreas is not making enough insulin or the insulin is not working properly. Eating healthy foods and exercising can make your insulin work better, but some people need to take tablets or insulin.
  • Type 2 diabetes is much more common than type 1 diabetes.

Symptoms of diabetes

You can have diabetes and not know about it. Some signs you might have diabetes are:

  • Feeling tired or weak – Without insulin the glucose (sugar) stays in your blood, which makes you, feel tired and weak because you are not getting enough fuel into your muscles.
  • Going to the toilet a lot – When you have too much glucose (sugar) in your blood your body tries to get rid of it through weeing a lot.
  • Feeling thirsty all the time – Because you are weeing a lot you get thirsty.
  • Feeling hungry all the time – Because your body is not getting enough energy (fuel).
  • Blurred vision – When you have too much sugar in your blood it builds up in your eye and makes your vision blurry.
  • Sores that won’t get better – Lots of glucose (sugar) in your blood makes it sticky so it attracts germs and the blood doesn’t flow as well to heal the sores.
  • Feeling upset or moody – because you are tired and weak you might feel upset or moody more often.

Having high blood sugar levels can damage your heart, kidneys, feet, eyes and nerves. If you have any of the above symptoms for diabetes you should see a doctor straight away.

Risk factors for diabetes

If you have two of any of the following risk factors for diabetes, you should be tested for diabetes every year.

Risk factors which cannot be changed include:

  • Having a family history of diabetes
  • Being over 40 years of age
  • Being of Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, Melanesian, Polynesian, Chinese or Indian subcontinent descent
  • Being a woman who has had gestational diabetes or who has polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Having a mental health condition
  • Having a history of heart disease

Risk factors which can be changed include:

  • Being overweight: having a waist measurement over 80cm for women and over 94cm for men
  • Being physically inactive
  • Not following a healthy eating pattern
  • Smoking
  • Having high cholesterol or blood pressure



Please be advised that this website may
contain names and images of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people now deceased.