Diabetes – A Guide

Focus on Disability - For Disabled People, the Elderly and their Carers in the UK

Diabetes can lead to disabling conditions because the body does not produce or properly use insulin.

Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life. The cause of diabetes continues to be a mystery, although both genetics and environmental factors such as obesity and lack of exercise appear to play roles.

See also:

Type 1 diabetes:

It used to be called insulin-dependent diabetes and occurs when the body fails to produce insulin, the hormone required for controlling blood sugar levels. People with type 1 diabetes require regular insulin injections to correct this. All type 1 diabetes patients should have access to a qualified dietitian, as diet is an important part of their clinical care. Type 1 diabetes usually affects young people, often in childhood, and is the least common of the two forms of diabetes accounting for between five to 15 per cent of all people with this disease.

Type 2 diabetes:

This type of diabetes develops slowly. It’s much more common than type 1 diabetes, accounting for at least 75 per cent of cases. Type 2 diabetes often develops later in life although cases in obese children and young adults are becoming more common. It’s strongly related to being overweight.

Diabetes is a life-long condition which you need to take seriously. Managing your diabetes well is a balancing act where you have to manage your medication (if you are taking any), with a healthy diet and physical activity.

Whether you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, you should aim to eat a healthy diet and be as physically active as you can. The main difference in treating Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes is the medication you receive. The management of diabetes most importantly involves self-care. Your GP, practice nurse and Diabetes Specialist Team are there to support you with this condition and to help you find ways to continue living your life to the full.


Everyone on medication for diabetes is entitled to free prescriptions. This includes free blood sugar testing equipment (if your diabetes is NOT just diet controlled). Ask your pharmacist or GP for an exemption certificate. Your are entitled to a free flu vaccination which is available at your GP’s surgery during October and November each year(see Immunisation below). It is strongly recommended people with diabetes receive the flu vaccine. You are entitled to free chiropody and eye checks annually. You are entitled to a free pneumonia vaccination which lasts for 10 years.


Anyone disabled by diabetes is entitled to financial help from the benefits system if their incapacity or disability fits the criteria to receive the award of that benefit.

see Benefits and Allowances for Disabled People and Benefit Rates

Dental Care:

There is NO financial help for dental care if you have diabetes. It is not free.

It is however important that you tell your dentist that you are diabetic. Regular dental check ups and early treatment are essential as dental infections may disturb your diabetes control. If like most people you find dental visits stressful:


  • If you need a general anaesthetic, this should be done in hospital.
  • A painful mouth (particularly poor fitting dentures) may prevent you eating properly. This can lead to low blood sugar levels.

Pregnancy and diabetes:


Planning for pregnancy needs a little extra care when you have diabetes. Ideally pregnancy should be planned. Your GP should refer you to a pre-pregnancy clinic for education and advice. It is important that you make sure that your blood sugar levels are well controlled before you conceive. High blood sugar, especially in the first three months of pregnancy, increases the risk of development problems for the foetus. The dose of folic acid used in pregnancy if you have diabetes is 5 mg once a day. This is higher than the normal dose of folic acid recommended in pregnancy. This dose needs to be prescribed by your GP. Ideally you should start folic acid when you are planning your pregnancy. A healthy diet is part of the on-going treatment for everyone with diabetes but extra care may be needed to control weight increases during pregnancy – remember, you are not eating for two? Discuss any food cravings with your midwife or diabetes specialist nurse. Your diabetes treatment may need to be changed as soon as you become pregnant.

Immunisations AND Vaccines

All vaccination and immunisations that are normally recommended are completely safe for people with diabetes. However if you are travelling abroad, you should check with your doctor or travel agent if any additional vaccinations are necessary.

It is strongly recommended that all people with diabetes receive the “Flu Jab” each year.
In the UK if you have diabetes and are over 65 years of age and have certain other medications you are entitled to a FREE “flu jab” (Contact your local GP for details.) Generally you should be invited for a “flu jab” during the winter months October and November each year.

Your diabetes control may be affected temporarily if you have a vaccination or immunisation so you should be more aware and test your blood sugars more often for a few days and adjust your medication as advised. Remember to reduce the dose back to your usual amount when you are feeling better and your blood sugars are back to normal.

Diabetes and your child:

The specialised nature of managing childhood diabetes means that most children are cared for by the hospital rather than by their GP.

Most children with diabetes need insulin treatment. If this is the case, your child will need an individual insulin routine, which will be planned with the diabetes team.

  • Most now use frequent daily dosage regimes of fast-acting insulin during the day and slow-acting insulin at night.
  • Very small children normally don’t need an injection at night, but will need one as they grow older.
  • Increasing numbers of older children use continuous insulin pumps.

Often in the first year after diagnosis, your child may need only a small dose of insulin. This is referred to as ‘the honeymoon period’.
As well as insulin treatment, good glucose control and avoidance of ‘hypos’ (low blood glucose attacks) is important. This is because many of the complications of diabetes increase with the length of time diabetes has been present.
Living with diabetes can put families under considerable strain, so access to backup support is crucial. This may be from your GP, the hospital team or social services.
Understanding all the different aspects of diabetes and its treatment requires patience, but will benefit your child and family life.
The diabetes team at the hospital can help you with the list below.

  • Learn how to administer insulin injections. Insulin is usually injected into the skin over the abdomen or the thighs.
  • Know the symptoms of low blood glucose and diabetic acidosis and what to do about them.
  • Make sure glucose is always available.
  • Measure blood glucose levels and teach your child how to do this as soon as they are old enough.
  • Teach your child how to self-administer insulin injections as soon as they are old enough – around the age of nine is typical.
  • See the doctor on a regular basis, and particularly if your child becomes ill for any reason – treatment is likely to need adjusting.
  • Inform the school and friends about the symptoms of low blood glucose and what to do about them.
  • Contact your local diabetes association for help and support.


Drink alcohol in moderation. As with non-diabetics, drink a maximum of two to three units for women and three to four units for men per day. Spread your drinking throughout the week and avoid binge drinking. Remember that alcohol contains calories so keep it to a minimum to help you lose weight. A unit is a small glass of wine or half a pint of beer, or a pub measure of spirits. If you’re taking tablets to help control your blood sugars, remember that alcohol can make hypoglycaemia (low blood sugars) more likely to occur, so never drink on an empty stomach.


People with diabetes are at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Stopping smoking will help to decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease and minimise the chance of developing other complications of diabetes.

Blood Glucose Monitors – Socks – Recipe Books
See products in The Focus on Disability Shop

Useful Advice

Being knowledgeable about diabetes can help you through life and help you with difficult situations you may face.

  • Make sure that you take your medication (tablet or insulin) on time and make sure you take the correct dosage.
  • Make sure you monitor your blood sugars regularly and act on the results.
  • Ensure that you build on advice you are given into your daily life and know what your personal limitations are.
  • Inform others about your diabetes, especially your family and those close to you. Wear ID tags or bracelet so others can identify you have diabetes. (Diabetes UK)
  • Look after your personal health.
  • Take care of you body and learn to do self checks so that you can detect anything unusual and react to it.
  • Listen to your body; learn to identify the signs of a hypoglycaemic reaction and Hyperglycaemic reaction
  • Make sure you attend your GP, Nurses, optician and hospital appointments there are given to help you maintain good diabetes control.
  • Ensure you know how deal with the situation and to contact your healthcare team, especially in an emergency. Ie who to contact.
  • Find out about the different Support and Education groups run in your area to help you learn more about diabetes.
  • Follow the simple care procedures and incorporate them into your daily routine to prevent complications.

Resources for Diabetics:

Diabetes UK is the largest organisation in the UK working for people with diabetes

Diabetes.co.uk – the global diabetes community.

https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/life-with-diabetes/travel – for travel info