or anyone who hears the diagnosis “diabetes,” the first question that comes to mind is probably: “Does this mean daily insulin shots?”. There is truly no simple answer to that question; it depends on the type of diabetes diagnosed.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes refers to a group of diseases that affect how our body uses glucose. Normally our body turns the food we eat into glucose, a type of sugar that our body uses for energy. Glucose is then carried throughout our body by our bloodstream. With the help of insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas, glucose can enter the cells of our muscles and tissues in our body to be converted into energy.
In a person with diabetes, this glucose can’t enter the cells properly and as a result, the level of glucose in the bloodstream stays high. There can be several reasons for this. In some people, the pancreas makes no insulin, resulting in too much glucose in the bloodstream. Medically, this is known as type 1 diabetes.
Sometimes the pancreas makes some insulin but not enough, and sometimes the body just can’t use the insulin properly. Both conditions fall into a category called type 2 diabetes.
Too much glucose in our bloodstream can lead to serious health problems which include damage to small blood vessels, large blood vessels and nerves and as a result, a lot of the organs in our body become affected. The most common cause of death in individuals with diabetes is heart disease.
Differences between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes
There are other differences between type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes most often appears in children and young adults. While the exact cause is not known, it is believed that some people may be born with a gene that makes them susceptible to type 1 diabetes, but they do not develop the condition until something triggers the gene. The risk of type 1 diabetes in an individual increase if the person has a parent or sibling who has type 1 diabetes. About 10% of all the people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes tends to occur in people after the age of forty; though in recent years there has been an increase in the number of younger people with type 2 diabetes. Many experts believe that this may be due, in part, to the growing problem of childhood obesity.
Type 2 diabetes develops much more slowly than type 1 diabetes and may take several years before symptoms become severe enough to be noticed. The people most likely to develop this form of the condition generally have a family history of diabetes, are overweight, and are inactive.
Some ethnic groups are especially prone to developing type 2 diabetes, including those with South Asian, African, Hispanic, and First Nations heritage.
There are warning signs that can point to possible blood sugar problems, and you should watch for them.
For type 1, the danger signals include:
- unusual thirst
- the need to urinate frequently
- changes in appetite
- dramatic or unexplained weight loss
- weakness or fatigue
- nausea and vomiting
The warning signs for type 2 diabetes may include any of the signs pointing to type 1 diabetes as they develop more slowly in type 2 diabetes. Patients with type 2 diabetes usually have no symptoms and weight loss is less common.
Other possible signs of type 2 diabetes include:
- cuts that don’t heal right away
- slow healing of infections of the skin, gums, or bladder
- blurred vision
- tingling or numbness in the hands and feet
Having the warning signs does not necessarily mean that you have diabetes. It does mean that you may have a problem and you should discuss it with a health care professional to see if further testing is necessary.
You may hear terms such as impaired fasting glucose or impaired glucose tolerance. These terms describe individuals who have higher than normal blood glucose levels, but these levels are not classified as being diagnostic of diabetes. If you do have one of these conditions, you may be at a higher risk for developing diabetes or heart disease.
Prediabetes is a term for the time period of several years when glucose in not being used properly, before being officially diagnosed as diabetes.
Discuss with your health care provider on how to better manage your blood glucose levels to help with reducing this risk.
Regardless of the type of diabetes a person has, maintaining a healthy weight and eating healthy are important keys controlling blood glucose levels.
The treatment for diabetes depends on the type of diabetes person has and oral medications or insulin may have a keeping blood glucose at the right levels.
Type 1 diabetes is treated by a combination of a meal plan a program of regular physical activity, both of which are on an individual basis. Treatment also includes daily injections of insulin and education about this condition, because an understanding of the condition leads to better control. When it is under control, a person with diabetes can lead an active, healthy life. However, uncontrolled diabetes can have serious health consequences.
Many people with type 2 diabetes can control their blood glucose levels by a combination of careful attention to meal plans and a program of regular physical activity. Sometimes, though, oral medications and/or insulin injections are necessary to achieve good blood glucose control.
If you have diabetes, your health care provider can help develop a personalized treatment plan. Part of this plan be a schedule of blood sugar testing. Be sure to follow schedule and to record the results of the tests, because provide a guideline for adjusting food, physical activity, medicine to keep your diabetes under control.
Another important test is a glycated hemoglobin test, also known as hemoglobin A1C or HbA1C. In addition to regular self-monitoring of blood sugar levels, your health care provider may recommend this blood test. It measures your average blood sugar level over a period of three months.
If you have diabetes, keeping the condition under control reduces your risk of kidney problems, blindness, heart attack, stroke, and nerve damage that can lead to gangrene.
In a young pregnant woman, controlling blood sugar levels increases her chances of delivering a normal healthy baby. On the other hand, if you have diabetes and you do not take steps to control it, this can lead to serious, sometimes permanent, damage to your kidneys, eyes, nerves, and heart.
How to Keep Diabetes under Control?
The most important steps you can take to control your diabetes are:
- stick to the meal plan and physical activity programs that have been developed for you
- test your blood sugar levels on schedule as determined by your health care provider and remember to record your results
- take your insulin or other medication exactly how and when your health care professionals have advised
- learn as much as you can about diabetes
Achieve a Healthy Weight
If you are overweight—and about 80% of people with type 2 diabetes are—it is essential that you lose weight because the extra pounds interfere with your body’s ability to let insulin work effectively. Losing the excess weight not only reduces the amount of body fat, it also helps your insulin do its job better. In some people, losing weight is enough to return blood sugar levels to normal for a period of some years.
It is also important that you do not smoke. People with diabetes tend to have circulation problems. Smoking constricts blood vessels, which makes circulation problems worse.
It also contributes to heart disease, and people with diabetes are already more likely to develop heart disease without the added problems caused by smoking. If you are not worried about your heart or lungs, remember that circulation problems affect your whole body. Poor circulation to the feet can lead to very serious problems, including amputations. For men poor circulation can contribute to erection problems as well.
Before you take any medicine—prescription or nonprescription drugs, herbal remedies, or supplements—speak with your health care provider. Some nonprescription drugs contain ingredients that can affect blood sugar, making it more difficult to control your diabetes.
Some vitamins, minerals, and natural products can also affect blood sugar. Read all product labels very carefully and pay attention to the warnings. When buying nonprescription remedies, look for sugar-free and alcohol-free products. If you are not sure about something, ask your health care provider.
If you see more than one health care provider—for example, a family physician plus a specialist—make sure that all your health care providers are aware of your diabetes and your most recent blood sugar results. Some medicines used for other conditions should not be prescribed for a person with diabetes.