Diabetes cannot be cured but it can be successfully managed.
Diabetes is a condition that affects how your body uses energy, in the form of glucose, from food. People with diabetes have a high level of glucose in their blood. This can be caused by:
- Too little insulin being produced by the pancreas
- Your body not accepting or using the insulin it produces
- A combination of both.
People with diabetes need to keep their blood sugar levels within a healthy range. Blood sugar levels are controlled through diet, physical activity and, for some people, medication or insulin injections.
Insulin is a hormone your cells need to store and use energy from food. Insulin is responsible for getting glucose into your cells. If you have diabetes, insulin is not able to do its job, meaning glucose is unable to get into your cells, which causes it to build up in your blood. High levels of glucose then circulate through your body, damaging cells along the way.
Types of Diabetes
There are more than one type of diabetes:
- Type 1 Diabetes (also referred to as Juvenile or Insulin-dependent Diabetes): The pancreas cannot make insulin or makes very little. Type 1 diabetes often begins in childhood; the onset is sudden. People with type 1 diabetes need daily insulin injections or an insulin pump.
- Type 2 Diabetes (also called Adult-onset Diabetes): The pancreas makes insulin, but it does not make enough or your body doesn't use the insulin it makes. Type 2 develops slowly; diagnosis usually happens after age 40. Eight in 10 people with this type of diabetes are overweight. In fact, type 2 diabetes is becoming more common in children and teenagers because of the increase in obesity in these age groups. Blood sugar levels are controlled through diet and physical activity. Oral medicines may be used to help your body respond to the insulin you make. Insulin injections or a pump may be needed.
- Gestational Diabetes: The cause is unknown but may be the result of hormones during pregnancy blocking the action of insulin. Gestational diabetes often disappears after the baby is born. However, women who experience diabetes while pregnant have a much greater chance of having type 2 diabetes later in life.
Signs and Symptoms of Diabetes
Symptoms of diabetes include:
- Going to the bathroom frequently
- Being unusually thirsty
- Losing weight
- Feeling tired
- Blurred vision
- Frequent illness or infection
- Poor circulation, such as tingling or numbness in the feet or hands.
If you think you have diabetes, see a doctor immediately, as only a doctor can confirm a diabetes diagnosis. He or she will most likely recommend a fasting plasma (blood) glucose test.
Goals for Managing Diabetes
Whether you have been diagnosed with type 1, type 2 or gestational diabetes, your overall goals for managing the disease are the same.
- Keep blood glucose levels within the normal range or as close to normal as possible. This can prevent or reduce complications.
- Reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. People with diabetes are at risk for both. Keep blood pressure within normal levels and achieve healthy cholesterol levels.
- Adopt a diet and lifestyle that are enjoyable and doable for you and can prevent or at least slow complications from diabetes.
If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, seek the expert advice of a registered dietitian to help you manage the disease while ensuring you get the nutrients your body needs. Use the Find a Registered Dietitian tool to locate an RD in your area.
To successfully manage diabetes, you need to understand how foods and nutrition affect your body.
Learn More about Diabetes and Diet »
Choose Your Foods Exchange List »
For more information about living with diabetes, visit the following sites:
Reviewed December 2012