What is diabetes?

Diabetes is caused by too much sugar (known as glucose) in your blood and doubles your risk of stroke. There are two main types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes develops when your body stops producing insulin, a hormone that helps your body to use up the glucose in your bloodstream. This type of diabetes usually begins in childhood or adolescence.
  • Type 2 diabetes develops when your body does not produce enough insulin or when your body doesn't react to it in the right way. This type of diabetes is much more common and tends to develop gradually, usually in adulthood. 

Why does it increase your risk of stroke?

High levels of sugar in your blood can damage your blood vessels, making them harder and narrower and more likely to become blocked. If this happens in a blood vessel leading to the brain, it could cause a stroke.

Diabetes almost doubles your risk of having a stroke and is a contributing factor in 20% of strokes in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

How do I know if I have diabetes?

The main symptoms are:

  • feeling very thirsty
  • urinating more frequently, especially at night
  • extreme tiredness
  • weight loss
  • genital itching or regular episodes of thrush
  • cuts or wounds that heal slowly
  • blurred vision.

However, many people don't realise they have diabetes. It’s easy not to notice or think too much about any of these symptoms on their own. It’s important that you talk to your GP if you have any of these symptoms. 

Your GP will be able to test for diabetes with a simple urine, or possibly blood, test. They'll then be able to tell you what your blood glucose level is and what level it should be. 

What can I do about diabetes?

If you have diabetes, you must have regular check-ups with your GP or at a diabetes clinic to make sure your blood glucose and blood pressure stay at healthy levels.

Diabetes cannot be cured, but there are treatments that can help to keep your blood sugar levels as normal as possible.

You may need medication to help control your diabetes, but it can often be managed by making changes to your lifestyle such as eating a healthy diet and doing more exercise. Talk to your doctor about what you need to do. 

Find out more

  • There’s more information about diabetes and how it’s treated in our guide Diabetes and stroke.