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What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease in which your blood glucose levels are too high. Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose, or sugar, for our bodies to use for energy. The pancreas, an organ that lies near the stomach, makes a hormone called insulin to help glucose get into the cells of our bodies. When you have diabetes, your body either doesn't make enough insulin or can't use its own insulin as well as it should. This causes sugar to build up in your blood. Without enough insulin, the glucose will stay in the bloodstream instead of being given into your cells for energy.

Over time, too much glucose in your blood causes serious problems. It can cause damage to your eyes, kidneys, and nerves. Diabetes can also cause heart disease and stroke. If the diabetes is severe enough, it can even cause the need to remove a limb. Pregnant women can also get diabetes; this is called gestational diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes symptoms can include fatigue, thirst, weight loss, blurred vision and frequent urination, though some people have no symptoms. A blood test can show whether or not you have diabetes. Exercise, weight control and following a meal plan can help control your diabetes. You should monitor your glucose level and take medicine (if prescribed) as well.

Symptoms of diabetes

People who think they might have diabetes are highly recommended to visit a healthcare physician for a true diagnosis. They might have SOME or NONE of the following symptoms:

  • Frequent urination
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Sudden vision changes
  • Tingling or numbness in hands or feet
  • Feeling very tired much of the time
  • More infections than usual
  • Nausea, vomiting, or stomach pains

Different types of diabetes

Type 1 diabetes, or juvenile-onset diabetes, could account for about 5% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body does not produce insulin effectively, or at all.

Type 2 diabetes, previously called adult-onset diabetes, can account for about 90% to 95% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. In Type 2 diabetes your body does not produce and/or use insulin well.

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that affects only pregnant women. If not treated, gestational diabetes can cause problems for mothers and babies. Gestational diabetes develops in 2% to 10% of pregnancies but usually disappears when the pregnancy is over.

Other specific types of diabetes that result from specific genetic syndromes, drugs, malnutrition, infections, and other illnesses, which accounts for 1% to 5% of diagnosed cases of diabetes.

Risk factors for diabetes

Type 2 diabetes risk factors include older age, obesity, having a family history of diabetes, a prior history of gestational diabetes, physical inactivity, and race/ethnicity. African Americans, Hispanic Americans and some Asian Americans are at particularly high risk for type 2 diabetes. Risk factors are not as defined for type 1 diabetes than for type 2 diabetes, but genetic, autoimmune, and environmental factors have some effect on developing type 1 diabetes.Gestational diabetes occurs more frequently in African Americans, Hispanic Americans, American Indians, and women who have a family history of diabetes than in other groups. Obesity also is associated with higher risk of gestational diabetes. Women who have had gestational diabetes have a 35-60% chance of developing diabetes in the next 10–20 years.

Are there treatment options for diabetes?

In a sense, yes. Eating healthy foods, getting enough physical activity, and insulin injections are the basic therapies for type 1 diabetes. The amount of insulin taken has to be balanced with food intake amounts and other daily activities. Blood glucose levels must be closely monitored through frequent blood glucose testing. This is usually done with blood glucose meters and other diabetes treating devices, like the ones here.

Getting proper physical activity, eating healthily, and blood glucose testing are the basic therapies for type 2 diabetes as well. In addition, many people with type 2 diabetes need an oral medication, insulin, or both to control their blood glucose levels.

People with diabetes need to take responsibility for day-to-day care, keeping blood glucose levels from going too low or too high. People with diabetes should see a healthcare physician to monitor their diabetes control and help them learn to manage their diabetes. In addition, people with diabetes can see:

  • Endocrinologists who specialize in diabetes care
  • Ophthalmologists for eye examinations
  • Podiatrists for normal foot care
  • Diabetes educators who teach skills needed for daily diabetes management

There is no cure yet for diabetes, although research is being developed and actively pursued. Some ideas include pancreas transplantation, artificial pancreas development, islet cell transplantation, and genetic manipulation (inserting insulin producing genes into other cells). However, each of these has challenges, such as preventing immune rejection.

Though these treatments sound promising, the best way to cure diabetes is to never get it. Preventing diabetes can be done through physical activity and a healthy diet. There is research being done on what triggers diabetes genetically as well.