What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a disease of the pancreas, an organ behind the stomach that produces a hormone called insulin. Insulin helps the body use food for energy. When a person has diabetes, the pancreas either cannot produce enough insulin, uses the insulin incorrectly or both. Insulin works together with glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream to help sugar enter the body’s cells to be used for energy. If the insulin is working improperly, sugar cannot enter the cells. This causes sugar levels in the blood to rise, creating a condition of high blood sugar or diabetes.
How do I know if I have diabetes?
Your health care provider can help you determine if you have diabetes. Normal fasting blood sugar is 70 to 99 mg/dl. The standard diagnosis of diabetes is made when you have:
- A fasting blood sugar level of 126 mg/dl or higher on two separate occasions or
- A random blood sugar level of 200 mg/dl or higher along with common symptoms of diabetes, such as:
- Increased thirst
- Increased hunger
- Frequent urination
- Blurred vision
- Weight loss
What are the different types of diabetes?
Diabetes is classified as Type 1, Type 2 or gestational. Pre-diabetes is a term used to identify people who have higher than normal blood sugar but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Many people diagnosed with higher than normal blood sugars can make healthy lifestyle changes by watching what they eat, exercising and losing weight to help prevent diabetes.
- Type 1 diabetes occurs because the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas are damaged. In Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas makes little or no insulin, so sugar cannot get into the body’s cells for use as energy. People with Type 1 diabetes must use insulin injections to control their blood glucose.
- Nine out of 10 people with diabetes have Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes influences insulin production in the pancreas – either the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or the insulin does not work properly. Type 2 diabetes sometimes can be controlled with a combination of diet, weight management and exercise. However, treatment also may include oral glucose-lowering medications or insulin injections.
- Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy as the hormones of the placenta block the insulin and cause it to not work as well. Most women can make lifestyle changes to control gestational diabetes, a condition that usually goes away after the baby is delivered.
Diabetes risk factors
Health care providers do not yet know what causes diabetes. You are at risk for having diabetes if you:
- Are overweight
- Are physically inactive
- Are over age 45, although diabetes occurs in younger people
- Have a parent, brother or sister with diabetes
- Are an African American, Native American, Asian American, Pacific Islander or Hispanic American
- Have had a baby weighing more than 9 pounds or have had gestational diabetes
- Have high blood pressure (over 140/90 mmHg)
- Have low HDL cholesterol (35 mg/dl or lower) or high triglycerides (250 mg/dl or higher)
- Have pre-diabetes
Long-term complications of diabetes
- Eye conditions, such as glaucoma and cataracts
- Dental problems
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Nerve disease (numbness or tingling in the feet)
How to manage diabetes
There is no cure for diabetes, but it can be treated and controlled in the following ways:
- Keep blood sugar levels as near normal as possible by balancing food intake with medication and activity.
- Maintain blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels as near normal as possible.
- Control blood pressure (blood pressure should not be over 130/80).
- Plan meals and follow a balanced meal plan.
- Exercise regularly.
- Take medicine, if prescribed, and follow the guidelines on how and when to take it.
- Monitor blood sugar and blood pressure levels at home.
- Keep appointments with health care providers and have tests completed as ordered by the doctor.
- Remember, a healthy lifestyle and periodic physician checkups are key to controlling blood sugar.
For more information, to schedule an appointment for a diabetes management class or to consult a dietitian, call Norton Diabetes Education Services at (502) 629-2604.
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