The number of people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK has increased by nearly 130,000 to 2.9 million in the last year, reports Diabetes UK.
This is a rise of almost 50% since GPs first published diabetes data in 2005, the charity adds.
The rise is mainly in cases of type 2 diabetes, which accounts for around 90% of all diagnoses. While type 2 diabetes commonly develops in people who are overweight, the charity is urging people to be aware of the other risk factors associated with the condition, including having a large waist, being aged over 40, having a family history of the condition or being from black, Asian or minority ethnic communities.
"The rate of increase of diabetes is growing, with huge human cost and cost to the NHS," said Diabetes UK chief executive Barbara Young.
"The time for action is now," she added. "While rates of other serious conditions including many cancers, heart disease and stroke are steady or declining, the epidemic of diabetes continues to grow at even faster rates."
But simple things can make a huge impact, said Ms Young: "the vascular screening NHS Health Checks is critical in detecting early signs of type 2 diabetes. Losing 10% of your weight reduces your chances of developing type 2 diabetes by 50%." She also urged people to check their risk levels online at www.diabetes.org.uk/riskscore.
"We must reverse this trend if more people are not going to suffer unnecessarily and if diabetes is not going to bankrupt the NHS. Around 10% of NHS spending goes on diabetes and its complications - this equates to £9 billion per year or £1 million an hour," said Ms Young.
The signs and symptoms of diabetes include urinating all the time and especially at night, increased thirst, extreme tiredness, unexplained weight loss, genital itching or regular episodes of thrush, slow healing of cuts and wounds, and blurred vision. In type 2 diabetes, these symptoms may not be obvious and the condition can go undetected for up to 10 years, meaning around half of people already show signs of complications by the time they are diagnosed.
However, symptoms are quickly relieved once diabetes is being treated and under control, says the charity.