Diabetes 101

What is diabetes?

Put simply, diabetes is a condition where your body isn’t able to properly use energy (commonly known as glucose, or sugar) from digested food. To understand how diabetes affects your body, it helps to know how the body processes the food you eat and turns it into energy.


When you eat, your digestive system breaks down most of the food into fuel. This fuel is a simple sugar called glucose. Glucose travels through your bloodstream and into the cells to provide energy that allows cells to function. But the glucose needs help to get into the cells. So when you eat, the pancreas, an organ near your stomach, produces and secretes insulin. Insulin makes it possible for the glucose to move from the bloodstream into the body’s cells. Think of this process as a delivery system: the fuel (glucose) travels through the body via the bloodstream like a truck carrying goods, traveling on highways to make deliveries. But once the truck arrives at its location, it can’t be unloaded unless it’s put onto smaller carts. Insulin is that smaller cart, ushering glucose from the bloodstream into the cells.


For people with diabetes, this delivery system doesn’t work properly. Either the person doesn’t produce enough insulin, or any at all, or the person’s cells resist the insulin that the body produces. In either case, the glucose, or sugar, can’t get into the cells and builds up in the bloodstream, instead. The extra glucose exits the body in the urine, and the cells can’t get the energy they need even though there’s plenty of glucose in the body.


What are the three main types of diabetes?

  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Gestational diabetes


What is type 1 diabetes?

According to the NIH (National Institutes of Health), type 1 diabetes accounts for 5% – 10% of all people diagnosed with diabetes in the U.S. Type 1 diabetes is caused by an autoimmune response in which the body turns against a part of itself, in this case, the pancreas. With type 1, the pancreas makes little or no insulin, which is why this condition was previously called insulin-dependent diabetes. Often, people find out they have type 1 diabetes during their childhood or teenage years. People with type 1 diabetes must rely on insulin by injection or pump infusion to avoid life-threatening consequences.


The following are some type 1 diabetes symptoms:

  • Increased urination, thirst and appetite
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Exhaustion or fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • If left untreated, a life-threatening diabetic coma can occur


What is type 2 diabetes?

More than 90% of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes, in which the body can’t use insulin effectively. This type of diabetes is known as insulin-resistance. As type 2 progresses, the pancreas may stop producing insulin altogether. Those with increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes include adults and children who are overweight, have a family history of diabetes, maintain a physically inactive lifestyle, or belong to certain ethnic groups, such as African-American, Hispanic/Latino-American and Pacific Islander.


The following are some type 2 diabetes symptoms:

  • Increased urination, thirst and appetite
  • Blurred vision
  • Slow-healing wounds
  • Symptoms are slow to occur or may not occur at all


What is gestational diabetes?

According to the HHS (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) about 3% – 8% percent of pregnant women develop diabetes, known as gestational diabetes. In order to diagnosis gestational diabetes, your doctor may perform an initial glucose test and, depending on the results, order follow-up testing. If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, your doctor will provide information about controlling your blood glucose levels during your pregnancy in order to prevent the development of certain complications for you and your unborn baby. Normally, gestational diabetes goes away once the baby is born. However, women who develop gestational diabetes have a 40% – 60% chance of developing type 2 diabetes within 5 to 10 years, notes the HHS.



What is the treatment for diabetes?

There is no cure for diabetes; doctors and health care professionals work closely with people with diabetes to help them manage their daily blood glucose levels through healthy lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise, and the use of diabetes medication or insulin therapy. Controlling blood glucose levels may help people with diabetes delay complications associated with the disease.


How do you monitor blood glucose levels?

A variety of blood glucose monitoring devices are available. With many of these devices, a lancet is used to prick the skin (most often the side of a finger). Then a sample of blood is placed on a testing strip for a blood glucose meter to determine your blood sugar.


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