Diabetes is a disease in which the body is unable to properly use and store glucose (a form of sugar). Glucose backs up in the bloodstream — causing one’s blood glucose (sometimes referred to as blood sugar) to rise too high.
There are two major types of diabetes. In type 1 (fomerly called juvenile-onset or insulin-dependent) diabetes, the body completely stops producing any insulin, a hormone that enables the 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. Type 2 (formerly called adult-onset or non insulin-dependent) diabetes results when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin and/or is unable to use insulin properly (insulin resistance). This form of diabetes usually occurs in people who are over 40, overweight, and have a family history of diabetes, although today it is increasingly occurring in younger people, particularly adolescents.
How do people know if they have diabetes?
People with diabetes frequently experience certain symptoms. These include:
being very thirsty
tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
frequent skin, bladder or gum infections
wounds that don't heal
extreme unexplained fatigue
In some cases, there are no symptoms — this happens at times with type 2 diabetes. In this case, people can live for months, even years without knowing they have the disease. This form of diabetes comes on so gradually that symptoms may not even be recognized.
Who gets diabetes?
Diabetes can occur in anyone. However, people who have close relatives with the disease are somewhat more likely to develop it. Other risk factors include obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and physical inactivity. The risk of developing diabetes also increases as people grow older. People who are over 40 and overweight are more likely to develop diabetes, although the incidence of type 2 diabetes in adolescents is growing. Diabetes is more common among Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders. Also, people who develop diabetes while pregnant (a condition called gestational diabetes) are more likely to develop full-blown diabetes later in life.
How is diabetes treated?
There are certain things that everyone who has diabetes, whether type 1 or type 2, needs to do to be healthy. They need to have a meal (eating) plan. They need to pay attention to how much physical activity they engage in, because physical activity can help the body use insulin better so it can convert glucose into energy for cells. Everyone with type 1 diabetes, and some people 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 use the insulin it is producing better. Some people with type 2 diabetes can manage their disease without medication by appropriate meal planning and adequate physical activity.
Everyone who has diabetes should be seen at least once every six months by a diabetes specialist (an endocrinologist or a diabetologist). He or she should also be seen periodically by other members of a diabetes treatment team, including a diabetes nurse educator, and a dietitian who will help develop a meal plan for the individual. Ideally, one should also see an exercise physiologist for help in developing a physical activity plan, and, perhaps, a social worker, psychologist or other mental health professional for help with the stresses and challenges of living with a chronic disease. Everyone who has diabetes should have regular eye exams (once a year) by an ophthalmologist to make sure that any eye problems associated with diabetes are caught early and treated before they become serious.
Also, people with diabetes need to learn how to monitor their blood glucose. Daily testing will help determine how well their meal plan, activity plan, and medication are working to keep blood glucose levels in a normal range.