About Diabetes

It is estimated that over 25 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes. Of these people, one-third of them do not know that they have diabetes. As a result, these people may face serious health consequences later in life such as heart, kidney or eye disease, nerve damage, a decreased ability to fight infections and poor circulation.

Diabetes is a disease in which your body is unable to properly use and store glucose (a form of sugar). Glucose backs up in the bloodstream, causing your blood glucose or "sugar" to rise too high.

There are two major types of diabetes:

In Type 1 (juvenile-onset or insulin-dependent) diabetes, your body completely stops producing any insulin, a hormone that enables your body to use glucose found in foods for energy. People with Type 1 diabetes must take daily insulin injections to survive. This form of diabetes usually develops in children or young adults, but can occur at any age.

In Type 2 (adult-onset or non-insulin-dependent) diabetes, the body produces insulin, but not enough to properly convert food into energy. This form of diabetes usually occurs in people who are over 40, overweight and have a family history of diabetes.

Common symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Increased urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased hunger
  • Weight loss
  • Change in vision
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent infections

If you experience any of these symptoms of have one or more risk factors, talk to your primary care provider about a diabetes screening.

Who Gets Diabetes

Diabetes risk factors include:

  • Family history of diabetes
  • History of high blood pressure
  • High cholesterol and/or high triglycerides
  • People who are overweight
  • People who are over 40

People of African-American, Hispanic or Asian heritage, and women who develop diabetes while pregnant (a condition called gestational diabetes) are also more likely to develop diabetes later in life.

Managing Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type, yet it is still not well understood. Recent research suggests there are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of this form of diabetes, including:

  • Maintaining a normal a weight
  • Losing weight if necessary
  • Exercising regularly because exercise helps your body use insulin more effectively
  • Follow a meal plan as closely as possible
  • Use medications as instructed and monitor glucose regularly to keep it in as normal a range as possible

Monitoring glucose day-to-day at home using home blood-sugar monitoring shows how well your meal plan, exercise and medication are working to keep your blood sugar in a normal range.

A recent nationwide study completed over a 10-year period showed that people who successfully managed their glucose level could reduce the risk of developing some of the diabetes complications by 50 percent or more.

Treating Diabetes

People with Type 1 diabetes, and some with Type 2 diabetes, also need to take insulin injections. Some people with Type 2 diabetes take pills called "oral agents" which help their bodies produce more insulin and/or better use the insulin they produce. Some people with Type 2 diabetes can manage their disease solely with weight loss, diet and exercise and don't need any medication.

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, you should see a diabetes specialist (an endocrinologist) at least once every six months. You should also be seen periodically by other members of a diabetes treatment team, including a diabetes nurse educator and a diabetes dietitian educator for help with meal plans. Ideally, you should also see an exercise physiologist for help in developing an exercise plan.

Social workers, psychologists or other mental health professionals can help with the stresses and challenges of daily living. A yearly eye exam is strongly recommended to make sure any eye problems associated with the disease are caught early and treated before they become serious.