Skip to main content

Diabetes is a serious condition in which the body cannot maintain healthy blood glucose levels. Insulin, the hormone which regulates these levels, is no longer produced or is not produced in sufficient amounts by the body. People living with diabetes need to manage it daily, and it can have a significant impact on quality of life and health, including increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and heart conditions, heart attack, stroke and blindness.

There are three main types of diabetes, plus a stage before diabetes called pre-diabetes.

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy when the body cannot cope with the extra demand for insulin production, resulting in higher than normal blood glucose levels.

After the baby is born, gestational diabetes usually disappears, although some women may continue to have high blood glucose levels. There is also an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future for both mother and baby.

Gestational diabetes can occur in women with no known risk factors.

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Those affected need to take insulin every day.

The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is not known, but there is a strong genetic link. There is no known link to modifiable lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise, but maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help to manage the condition.

Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented, and there is no cure.

Type 2 diabetes

In type 2 diabetes, the body becomes resistant to the normal effects of insulin and/or gradually becomes unable to produce enough insulin. This develops over a long period of time. Until recently, this type of diabetes was seen only in adults, but it is now also occurring in children.

The cause of type 2 diabetes is not known. However, there is a strong genetic link, and it is also linked to modifiable lifestyle risk factors such as excess body weight and physical inactivity.

While many people with type 2 diabetes show no symptoms, symptoms can include:

  • Frequent or excess thirst
  • Passing more urine
  • Feeling tired and lacking energy
  • Feeling hungry frequently
  • Having cuts that heal slowly
  • Itching, skin infections
  • Blurred vision
  • Unexplained weight changes
  • Headaches and feeling dizzy

In the early stages, type 2 diabetes can often be managed with healthy eating and regular physical activity. Taking medication or insulin as soon as required can also result in fewer long-term complications.


In pre-diabetes, blood sugar levels are higher than the normal range, but not enough to be considered diabetes. People with pre-diabetes are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and CVD later in life.

Two million Australians have pre-diabetes. Around one in three will go on to develop type 2 diabetes, but this risk can be decreased through lifestyle changes such as losing weight, increased physical activity and eating a healthy diet.

The impact

Around 1.7 million Australians are living with diabetes. Every day, a further 280 develop diabetes – that’s one person every five minutes.1

Diabetes is a major risk factor for CVD. People living with type 2 diabetes are over twice as likely to develop CVD, with the number one cause of death for people with type 2 diabetes being CVD.2, 3 One of these cardiovascular conditions is peripheral artery disease (PAD), which places sufferers at risk of limb amputation.

If the current skyrocketing rates of incidence continue, it is estimated that one in three young Australians will develop diabetes by 2025 – and have double the risk of developing CVD.4

The risk

Type 2 diabetes can occur in anyone of any age or gender, but people are at a higher risk of developing it if they:

  • have a family history of diabetes
  • are overweight
  • have high blood pressure
  • are over 55 years of age
  • are from an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background, or are from a Pacific Island, Indian subcontinent or Chinese cultural background.

In Australia, an estimated 2 million people are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes. There are also large numbers of people living with undiagnosed type 2 diabetes.5

As over 50 per­cent of type 2 dia­betes cas­es can be pre­vent­ed or delayed if lifestyle changes are made ear­ly enough, ear­ly diag­no­sis and man­age­ment or treat­ment is vital­ly important.

What is HRI doing?

HRI is tackling the urgent issue of rising rates of diabetes and cardiovascular disease from various research angles. ​

The Vascular Complications Group aims to understand the pathogenesis of blood vessel disease in diabetes, and using this knowledge, identify new strategies to improve function and reduce the burden of disease.


  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS); 4364.0.55.001 - National Health Survey: First Results, 2014-15.
  2. Haffner SM et al; Mortality from coronary heart disease in subjects with type 2 diabetes and in nondiabetic subjects with and without prior myocardial infarction. N Engl J Med 1998; 339:229-234.
  3. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare; Deaths among people with diabetes in Australia, 2009–2014.
  4. Baker IDI; Diabetes: the silent pandemic and its impact on Australia, 2012.
  5. Dunstan, DW et al, The rising prevalence of diabetes and impaired glucose tolerance: The Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study. Diabetes Care, 2002. 25: p. 829-834.

Support HRI

Today's research is tomorrow's cure.

Every donation to the Heart Research Institute is an investment into the lives of millions. Help make a lasting difference by donating today.

Other ways you can help