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What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that occurs when your blood sugar becomes too high because your cells do not absorb it properly. This is usually due to an insulin problem. Insulin is a hormone made by your pancreas that helps glucose (sugar) go from your blood and into your cells to be used for energy. Diabetes happens when not enough insulin is produced, insulin production halts entirely, or your body stops properly responding to insulin.

Diabetes can lead to other long-term health problems if not diagnosed and managed properly. Although there is not cure for diabetes, the majority of cases can be treated effectively if one is committed to their health and well-being.

What is The Difference Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes?

There are a few different types of diabetes and each one has some unique differences.

Type 1 diabetes is when your body does not make any insulin. It is a genetic condition that is not caused by the individual’s lifestyle and is usually diagnosed in childhood or in young adults. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the immune system actually attacks the pancreas and destroys the cells responsible for insulin production. In order to stay alive, type 1 diabetics must take insulin every day.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes and happens when the body stops responding to insulin or does not make enough. It usually develops in people who are 45 years or older, but is becoming more common at younger ages. Risk factors that may increase one’s chance of developing type 2 diabetes include being overweight, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, high blood pressure, prediabetes, a history of gestational diabetes, a family history of diabetes and previous heart problems/stroke.

What Is Prediabetes?

Prediabetes happens when you have high blood sugar levels that are not quite in the diabetes range. It is wake-up call for people who are on the road to develop diabetes if they do not make some changes in their lifestyle and health habits. Unlike type 1 and type 2 diabetes, which do not have a cure, prediabetes can be reversed and eliminated entirely in most cases if proper treatment is received and the necessary lifestyle changes are maintained.

What Is Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes comes on during pregnancy and generally goes away once the baby is born. It can be dangerous for the mother and baby if not caught and treated, which is why all doctors and midwives test for it during a women’s pregnancy. Gestational diabetes often does not show symptoms like other forms of diabetes, which is why being tested is so important. With good dietary choices, exercise and medication if needed, a women can still have a healthy pregnancy and birth.

Having gestational diabetes does increase one’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes, so one should keep healthy lifestyle habits a priority and report any potential symptoms to a medical professional.

Symptoms Of Diabetes

Common symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Feeling very hungry even after eating
  • Extreme, unexplained fatigue
  • Vision abnormalities (blurry vision, partial blindness, etc)
  • Slow healing of cuts and bruises
  • Numbness and tingling in hands/feet
  • Low testosterone, low libido, erectile dysfunction (in men)
  • Irritability
  • Frequent nausea
  • Darkening of skin in armpits and other body creases
  • Sweet-smelling breath

Symptoms of diabetes in babies and young children:

  • Fruity/sweet-smelling breath
  • Behavioral changes/irritability
  • Genital yeast infections (in girls)
  • Vision trouble (blurry vision/unable to focus)
  • Lethargy
  • Frequent thirst/always wanting to drink
  • Frequent urination
  • Intense hunger  

Diabetes Diagnosis and Treatment

When you go to your doctor’s office he will ask about symptoms and do a general physical exam. If they suspect diabetes is possible, they will most likely order the following tests:

Urine Test

A urine sample is taken and tested for sugar content. If sugar levels are high, the doctor will likely move on to the following tests.

A Fasting Glucose Test

This is a blood test taken after a period of fasting, usually first thing in the morning because you have had had breakfast. Levels higher than 126 may mean you have diabetes.

Oral Glucose Tolerance Test

This is where you drink a sugary beverage and then have your blood sugar levels checks several times over the next few hours. If you blood sugar stays above 200 after 2 hours then you may have diabetes.

A1c Test

This is another blood test taken at random times over a 2-3 month period. The goal is to get an idea of your average blood sugar levels over a longer period of time.

Once a diagnosis of diabetes is confirmed, a personalized treatment plan is created depending on the type of diabetes and other factors. The most common forms of treatment include blood sugar monitoring, dietary and lifestyle changes, insulin therapy, non-insulin based medications, and weight management/reduction.

For more specific information on each type of diabetes, see the articles above.