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The hormone insulin helps glucose to leave the blood and enter the body's cells to be used as 'fuel'.
Type 1 diabetes is caused by an auto-immune reaction where the body's defence system attacks the insulin-producing cells. The symptoms of type 1 can be sudden and dramatic and include an unusual thirst, extreme tiredness and sudden weight loss.
This variant of the disease requires regular access to insulin.
Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is much harder to detect. The onset can be very gradual and sufferers are often diagnosed several years after the disease has taken hold, leading to a higher risk of complications.
Those with type 2 are often able to control the disease by watching their diet, taking regular exercise, oral medication and possibly insulin.
It is most common in those over 45 who are overweight, but an increase in obesity amongst the younger generation means that type 2 diabetes is becoming more common in children and young adults.
Diabetes Education and Prevention is a five-year campaign which will aim to inform the general public about how to avoid or delay diabetes, encourage empowerment through education for those people with the disease and ensure that governments around the world set up strategies and policies for the prevention and management of diabetes.
Charity events such as walks, runs and cycle races will be taking place throughout the world, along with public information meetings, free educational screenings and radio and television coverage.
Each of these aims to raise awareness of the disease which, particularly in developing countries where medical advice and assistance can be scarce, is essential in terms of educating sufferers and non-sufferers alike.
As the campaign slogan says: "Understand Diabetes and Take Control". Check out the World Diabetes Day website for information on the campaign and the events and activities taking place.