What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that results when your pancreas does not work properly, causing your blood sugar levels to rise above normal. 

As part of your digestion process, your body turns most of the food you eat into glucose (sugar) to provide you with energy. The pancreas, a small organ located near your stomach, produces a hormone called insulin to help the cells of your body use glucose. When you are diagnosed with diabetes, it means your pancreas is either not making enough insulin or your body cannot use insulin the way that it should. Sugar or glucose then builds up in your blood. 

Two main types of diabetes

Type 1 diabetes accounts for about 5% - 10% of all cases. This type of diabetes was called insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, or juvenile-onset diabetes in the past.  

The more prevalent type of diabetes is Type 2 diabetes, which accounts for about 90% - 95% of all diabetes cases. This type used to be referred to as non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, or adult-onset diabetes 

A third type is gestational diabetes. This type of diabetes only happens to pregnant women, affecting about 2% - 5% of all pregnancies. If left untreated, gestational diabetes can be harmful to both the mother and her baby. Gestational diabetes disappears on its own once the mother has delivered her baby, although women with this type of diabetes are at greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in the future.

Symptoms of diabetes

Not everyone with diabetes has outward signs of the disease. However, some people with diabetes may experience: 

  • Constant hunger
  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Sudden vision changes
  • Extremely dry skin
  • Tingling or numbness in hands or feet
  • Feeling very tired much of the time
  • Sores that heal slowly
  • Being prone to infections
  • Nausea, vomiting and stomach pains (usually in people with Type 1 diabetes)

Treatment for diabetes

If you have Type 1 diabetes, you will need to monitor your blood glucose level daily. You will have to inject insulin to provide your body with what it needs. In addition, eating a healthy diet and getting enough physical activity are very important to maintaining good health. 

If you have Type 2 diabetes, you may be taking oral medication or injecting insulin to control your blood glucose level. Eating well and getting plenty of exercise will help support good health. Since the majority of people with Type 2 diabetes are overweight, you may be encouraged to lose weight to improve your blood sugar control. 

When you have diabetes, it is up to you to take control of your daily care so that your blood glucose levels do not go too high or too low. 

Your health care provider can monitor your diabetes, help you understand the disease and provide you with the information you need so that you can manage the condition to improve your health. The aim of diabetes management is to keep your blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol within or as close as possible to normal ranges. Several major studies have shown that maintaining blood glucose levels in a normal range can reduce the risk of major complications in those with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. 

Complications of diabetes

When you have diabetes, you are at risk for a number of serious, long-term complications. These include kidney disease, heart and blood vessel disease, stroke, nerve damage, blindness and amputation because of certain complications. 

Many people with diabetes do not realize that it is the number one cause of chronic kidney disease (CKD). More than 40% of all patients who require dialysis have diabetes as the underlying cause for their kidney disease. By successfully managing your diabetes now, you may be able to slow the progression or avoid future complications, including kidney failure and dialysis. 

Summary

Diabetes occurs when your pancreas is either not making enough insulin or cannot use the insulin the way that it should, resulting in sugar building up in your blood. Although there is no cure, diabetes is a disease that often can be controlled with proper monitoring and treatment. Managing your diabetes daily is critical in the fight to postpone or avoid serious health complications like chronic kidney disease.

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