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What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a term used to describe a group of diseases characterized by increased levels of glucose in the blood stream.
Let’s first take a look at how your body produces energy. Your body uses the food you eat to produce a simple sugar called glucose, which is in turn utilized by your cells as fuel. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps the cells absorb glucose. Without glucose, your body cannot produce the energy needed for even the most basic bodily functions.
When a person is diagnosed with diabetes, there is a problem with the way the body produces insulin. There are three types of diabetes: type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes.
What is type 1 diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas no longer produces insulin. Previously known as juvenile diabetes, type 1 diabetes is most commonly diagnosed in children. However, adults can also be diagnosed with the disease. There are no measures to prevent type 1 diabetes – it can occur through heredity or by damage to the pancreas. Patients with type 1 diabetes are considered “insulin dependent,” meaning they must give themselves insulin in order to manage their disease.
While researchers are actively working to combat this disease, there is currently no cure for type 1 diabetes. However, with the proper insulin therapy, many people with diabetes find that they are able to lead normal, active, and healthy lifestyles.
What is type 2 diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. It occurs when the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin or the pancreas still produces insulin and the body is no longer able to use it. This is commonly referred to “insulin resistance.” Also known as adult-onset diabetes, children can also be diagnosed with the disease. Many patients with type 2 diabetes are able to maintain the disease through healthy lifestyle changes or medication.
Genetics can make some people more susceptible to developing type 2 diabetes. However, excess body weight and a sedentary lifestyle are also contributing factors.
Other risk factors include:
- Having a family background that is African American, Alaska Native, American Indian, Asian American, Hispanic/Latino, or Pacific Islander
- Giving birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds or being diagnosed with gestational diabetes.
- Having a blood pressure of 140/90 or above or being treated for high blood pressure
- Having an HDL, or “good,” cholesterol level below 35 mg/dL or a triglyceride level above 250 mg/dL
- Having polycystic ovary syndrome, also called PCOS
- Having impaired fasting glucose (IFG) or impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) on previous testing
- Having other conditions associated with insulin resistance, such as severe obesity or acanthosis nigricans
- Having a history of cardiovascular disease
There are several steps that can be taken to prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes. These include maintaining a healthy weight, making nutritious food choices, and exercising at least three days a week.
What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is characterized by high amounts of glucose in the blood during pregnancy. Being diagnosed with gestational diabetes does not mean you had diabetes before conception and in most women, blood sugar levels return to normal soon after delivery. Your OB/GYN will conduct an oral glucose tolerance test – usually between 24-28 weeks – to determine if you have gestational diabetes. Most patients are able to manage their condition by making healthy food choices and getting regular exercise.
How is diabetes diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will administer one of three tests:
- Fasting plasma glucose, or FPG test – simple blood test that measure blood glucose levels found after a person has not eaten for eight or more hours.
- Oral glucose tolerance test, or OGTT – during this test you will be asked to drink a liquid containing a certain amount of glucose. A blood test will be done at regular intervals –sometimes — one, two, and three hours after the test – to measure how well your body is able to absorb the glucose.
- Random plasma glucose test – simple blood taken without regard to whether you have just had something to eat or drink. Most often performed in an emergency situation.
My doctor diagnosed me with pre-diabetes. How is that different from diabetes?
Prediabetes is a condition where blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but still not high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes. However, if left untreated prediabetes will likely develop into type 2 diabetes within ten years. The good news is, adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes eating balanced meals, maintaining a healthy weight, and getting regular physical activity can bring glucose level back down to normal.
What are the symptoms of diabetes?
Symptoms of type 1 diabetes include:
- Frequent urination
- Unusual thirst
- Extreme hunger
- Unusual weight loss
- Extreme fatigue and irritability
Symptoms of type 2 diabetes include:
- Any symptoms of type 1 and
- Frequent infections
- Blurred vision
- Cuts/bruises that are slow to heal
- Tingling/numbness in the hands/feet
- Recurring skin, gum, or bladder infections
What are ketones?
Diabetic ketoacidosis occurs when too little insulin is found in the body. Without insulin, the body is forced to break down fat as fuel. This process creates toxic chemicals known as ketones. If left untreated, diabetic ketoacidosis can be fatal.
- Excessive thirst
- Frequent urination
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Weakness or fatigue
- Shortness of breath
- Fruity-scented breath
If you or someone you know are exhibiting signs of diabetic ketoacidosis, seek emergency attention immediately.
What are complications associated with diabetes?
If not properly managed, diabetes can lead to several other chronic health related complications.
- Heart disease
- Nerve damage
- Poor circulation
- High blood pressure
- Kidney damage
- Gum disease
What is A1C?
A1C is a simple blood test used to diagnose diabetes and gage how well your body is able to manage sugar levels over a period of time. Your physician may administer an A1C test immediately after diagnosis to get a baseline reading of your blood sugar levels and then repeat the test periodically to see how well your treatment plan is working to maintain healthy levels.
If I have type 2 diabetes, can I develop type 1 diabetes?
No, if you have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes you cannot develop type 1 diabetes.
How can I take care of myself if I have diabetes?
- Follow your meal plan — Eating lots of whole grain foods, fruits, and vegetables can help manage blood glucose levels and reduce your chances of developing complications.
- Get moving —regular exercise can help reduce blood sugar levels.
- Test your blood glucose levels regularly – regular testing can give you an idea of how certain foods, activities, and situations, and times of the day can affect blood sugar levels. Insulin dependent patients are also able to make more accurate dosage adjustments.
- Take all medications as prescribed by your doctor – following your providers advice can help prevent more serious diabetes-related complications.
What is continuous glucose monitoring?
It is very important for people with diabetes to monitor their blood sugar levels frequently throughout the day. Checking blood sugar levels allows you to take better care of yourself by knowing how food, activity levels, exercise, stress, medicine and insulin affect your blood sugar level. By actively regulating your blood sugar, you can avoid complications down the road associated with diabetes.
Continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) is used to continuously record blood sugar levels at regular intervals through the day. This is achieved through a tiny disposable sensor inserted under the skin near the abdomen. The sensor registers glucose levels and the information is stored in a small monitor worn by the patient.Other factors, such as meals and exercise can also be inputted manually by the patient.
Because traditional handheld meters are still considered a more accurate method for checking glucose levels, CGM devices must be periodically calibrated through the normal finger stick method – usually twice a day. Newer CGM models may be equipped with an alarm system that will notify the patient if normal blood sugar levels dip or spike. However, it is recommended that the patient confirm the reading with a meter before implementing a change in treatment.