Skip to content

What is diabetes?

Sugar (glucose) gives your body energy. The glucose moves from your blood into your muscles with something called insulin. With diabetes your insulin is not working properly, so the glucose does not get into your muscles and body easily and there is too much glucose in your blood.

Everyone has a little bit of glucose in their blood. The target level is between 4 to 6 mmol/L (after fasting).

Glucose is fuel that comes from some of the food you eat and drink. It gives your body energy to do all sorts of things:

  • walk
  • think
  • play sports
  • hunt
  • work
  • rake
  • gardening
  • resting

To help the glucose move into your muscles and body cells your body needs a hormone called insulin. Insulin is made in the pancreas—a body part which is near your stomach.

Insulin helps keep your glucose levels at healthy levels.

With diabetes, the insulin is not helping the blood glucose move from your body into your muscles and body cells. So it stays and builds in your body, making your blood glucose level high.

If you have any of the following symptoms you should talk to a health professional such as your doctor, health worker or nurse.

  • feeling tired or weak
  • going to the toilet a lot
  • feeling thirsty
  • leg cramps
  • feeling itchy
  • sores and boils that will not heal
  • blurry vision
  • pins and needles
  • feeling grumpy or angry

Through a simple test, a doctor can find out if your symptoms are the result of diabetes.

There are three different types of diabetes. A lot of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have type 2 diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, insulin made by the body does not work properly.

Fat bellies, lack of physical activity, and eating a lot of fatty food can stop the insulin in your body from working properly.

Being active, eating healthy and maintaining a healthy weight can help your insulin work better. Sometimes people might need to take tablets and insulin every day to keep their glucose at healthy levels.

Find out more about type 2 diabetes.

Another type of diabetes is gestational diabetes. This happens when you are pregnant, but not all women get it. The good thing is that, gestational diabetes goes away after the baby is born. But, women who get gestational diabetes are at greater risk of getting type 2 diabetes a few years later. That is why doctors say it is good for a woman who has had gestational diabetes to get checked for type 2 diabetes every year, around the time of their baby’s birthday. Your children may also get diabetes, so they should be checked too.

Find out more about gestational diabetes.

Pre-diabetes happens when your glucose level is high, but not high enough to be called diabetes. This does not mean that you have diabetes now, but it does mean you might get it later. Being active and eating healthy can slow down the start of type 2 diabetes.

Find out more about pre-diabetes.

Some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have type 1 diabetes. This usually happens in kids and teenagers. Type 1 diabetes happens when the pancreas in the body cannot make insulin. This is usually because the body destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. In type 1 diabetes, insulin will need to be replaced every day by injections or infusion using an insulin pump.

Find out more about type 1 diabetes.

Featured resource


The information here is meant to be helpful as a general guide. It’s not a substitute for medical advice, so be sure to talk to your health professional about your medical needs and questions.

Diabetes Australia acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of this Country. We recognise their connection to land, waters, winds and culture. We pay the upmost respect to them, their cultures and to their Elders, past and present. We are committed to improving health outcomes for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people affected by diabetes and those at risk.

Learn about the artwork