Diabetes 101

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Learn About Diabetes

Diabetes, often referred to by doctors as diabetes mellitus (MEL-ih-tus), describes a group of diseases characterized by high blood glucose levels, commonly called blood sugar. Glucose is vital to your health because it’s an important source of energy for the cells that make up your muscles and tissues. It’s your brain’s main source of fuels.

If you have diabetes, it means you have too much glucose in your blood, either because the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, or because cells do not respond to the insulin that is produced.

Chronic diabetes conditions include type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Potentially reversible diabetes conditions include prediabetes – when your blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as diabetes – and gestational diabetes, which occurs during pregnancy. (Reference: Mayo Clinic)

Type 1

Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, and was previously known as juvenile diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches, and other food into energy needed for daily life.  Only 5% of the people with diabetes have this form of the disease. With the help of insulin therapy and other treatments, even young children with type 1 diabetes can learn to manage their condition and live long, healthy, happy lives. (Reference: American Diabetes Association)

Type 2

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. Millions of Americans have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and many more are unaware they are at high risk. Some groups have a higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes than others. Type 2 diabetes is more common in African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders, as well as the aged population.

In type 2 diabetes, either the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin. Insulin is necessary for the body to be able to use glucose for energy. When you eat food, the body breaks down all the sugars and starches into glucose, which is the basic fuel for the cells in the body. Insulin takes the sugar from the blood into the cells. When glucose builds up in the blood instead of going into cells, it can lead to diabetes complications. (Reference: American Diabetes Association)

Gestational Diabetes

During pregnancy, usually around the 24th week, many women develop gestational diabetes. A diagnosis of gestational diabetes doesn’t mean that you had diabetes before you conceived, or that you will have diabetes after giving birth. But it’s important to follow your doctor’s advice regarding blood glucose (blood sugar) levels while you’re planning your pregnancy, so you and your baby both remain healthy.

Based on recently announced diagnostic criteria, it is estimated that gestational diabetes affects 18% of the pregnancies. The majority of gestational diabetes patients can control their diabetes with exercise and diet. Undiagnosed or uncontrolled gestational diabetes can raise the risk of complications during childbirth. The baby may be bigger than he/she should be.

We don’t know what causes gestational diabetes, but we have some clues. The placenta supports the baby as it grows. Hormones from the placenta help the baby develop. But these hormones also block the action of the mother’s insulin in her body. This problem is called insulin resistance, which makes it hard for the mother’s body to use insulin. She may need up to three times as much insulin. (Reference: American Diabetes Association)

Prediabetes

The vast majority of patients with type 2 diabetes initially had prediabetes. Their blood glucose levels were higher than normal, but not high enough to merit a diabetes diagnosis. The cells in the body are becoming resistant to insulin. Studies have indicated that even at the prediabetes stage, some damage to the circulatory system and the heart may already have occurred. (Reference: Medical News Today)

Complications

  • Eye complications – glaucoma, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and some others.
  • Foot complications – neuropathy, ulcers, and sometimes gangrene which may require that the foot be amputated
  • Skin complications – people with diabetes are more susceptible to skin infections and skin disorders
  • Heart problems – such as ischemic heart disease, when the blood supply to the heart muscle is diminished
  • Hypertension – common in people with diabetes, which can raise the risk of kidney disease, eye problems, heart attack and stroke
  • Mental health – uncontrolled diabetes raises the risk of suffering from depression, anxiety and some other mental disorders
  • Hearing loss – diabetes patients have a higher risk of developing hearing problems
  • Gum disease – there is a much higher prevalence of gum disease among diabetes patients
  • Gastroparesis – the muscles of the stomach stop working properly
  • Ketoacidosis – a combination of ketosis and acidosis; accumulation of ketone bodies and acidity in the blood.
  • Neuropathy – diabetic neuropathy is a type of nerve damage which can lead to several different problems.
  • HHNS (Hyperosmolar Hyperglycemic Nonketotic Syndrome) – blood glucose levels shoot up too high, and there are no ketones present in the blood or urine. It is an emergency condition.
  • Nephropathy – uncontrolled blood pressure can lead to kidney disease
  • PAD (peripheral arterial disease) – symptoms may include pain in the leg, tingling and sometimes problems walking properly
  • Stroke – if blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood glucose levels are not controlled, the risk of stroke increases significantly
  • Erectile dysfunction – male impotence.
  • Infections – people with badly controlled diabetes are much more susceptible to infections
  • Healing of wounds – cuts and lesions take much longer to heal

(Reference: Medical News Today)

Treatments & Care

Depending on what type of diabetes you have, blood sugar monitoring, insulin and oral medications may play a role in your treatment. But no matter what type of diabetes you have, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and keeping an eye on your blood sugar levels are all keys to managing your diabetes. An important part of managing all types of diabetes is maintaining a healthy weight through a healthy diet and exercise plan:

  • Healthy eating. Contrary to popular perception, there’s no diabetes diet. You won’t be restricted to boring, bland foods. Instead, you’ll need plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains — foods that are high in nutrition and low in fat and calories ��� and fewer animal products and sweets. In fact, it’s the best eating plan for the entire family. Even sugary foods are OK once in a while, as long as they’re included in your meal plan.

Yet understanding what and how much to eat can be a challenge. A registered dietitian can help you create a meal plan that fits your health goals, food preferences and lifestyle. This may include carbohydrate counting, especially if you have type 1 diabetes.

  • Physical activity. Everyone needs regular aerobic exercise, and people who have diabetes are no exception. Exercise lowers your blood sugar level by transporting sugar to your cells, where it’s used for energy. Exercise also increases your sensitivity to insulin, which means your body needs less insulin to transport sugar to your cells. Get your doctor’s OK to exercise. Then choose activities you enjoy, such as walking, swimming or biking. What’s most important is making physical activity part of your daily routine. Aim for at least 30 minutes or more of aerobic exercise most days of the week. If you haven’t been active for a while, start slowly and build up gradually.