Reviewed by Sharon Denny, MS, RDN
A condition that affects how your body uses energy in the form of glucose from food, diabetes cannot be cured but it can be successfully managed. People with diabetes have a high level of glucose in their blood, which can be caused by either too little insulin being produced by the pancreas or your body not accepting or using the insulin it produces, or 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, and it 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
- Type 1 Diabetes (Juvenile Diabetes): The pancreas cannot make insulin or makes very little. Type 1 diabetes often begins in childhood, and the onset is sudden. People with Type 1 diabetes need daily insulin injections or an insulin pump.
- Type 2 Diabetes: The pancreas makes insulin, but it does not make enough or your body doesn't use the insulin it makes and usually develops slowly. 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 within 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
Common 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. Only a doctor can confirm a diabetes diagnosis and 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, since 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.
To successfully manage diabetes, you need to understand how foods and nutrition affect your body. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, seek the expert advice of a registered dietitian nutritionist to help you manage the disease while ensuring you get the nutrients your body needs.
For more information about living with diabetes, visit the following sites:
Learn More about Diabetes and Diet »
Reviewed October 2014