Diabetes is a chronic, often debilitating and sometimes fatal disease, in which the body either cannot produce insulin or cannot properly use the insulin it produces. This leads to high levels of glucose in the blood, which can damage organs, blood vessels and nerves. The body needs insulin to use glucose as an energy source.
Types of diabetes
There are three main types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes, usually diagnosed in children and adolescents, occurs when the pancreas is unable to produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone that controls the amount of glucose in the blood. Approximately 10 per cent of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes also includes latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA), the term used to describe the small number of people with apparent type 2 diabetes who appear to have immune-mediated loss of pancreatic beta cells.
The remaining 90 per cent of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes, which occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body does not effectively use the insulin that is produced. Type 2 diabetes usually develops in adulthood, although increasing numbers of children in high-risk populations are being diagnosed.
A third type of diabetes, gestational diabetes, is a temporary condition that occurs during pregnancy. It affects approximately 2 to 4 per cent of all pregnancies (in the non-Aboriginal population) and involves an increased risk of developing diabetes for both mother and child.
Is diabetes serious?
Diabetes is a serious disease that has reached epidemic proportions in Canada. If left untreated or improperly managed, diabetes can result in a variety of complications, including:
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Eye disease
- Problems with erection (impotence)
- Nerve damage
The first step in preventing or delaying the onset of these complications is recognizing the risk factors, as well as the signs and symptoms of diabetes.
Signs & Symptoms
There are many signs and symptoms that can indicate diabetes.
Signs and symptoms can include the following:
- Unusual thirst
- Frequent urination
- Weight change (gain or loss)
- Extreme fatigue or lack of energy
- Blurred vision
- Frequent or recurring infections
- Cuts and bruises that are slow to heal
- Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
- Trouble getting or maintaining an erection
If you have any of these symptoms, it is important to contact your health-care provider right away. Even if you don’t have symptoms, if you are 40 or older, you should still get checked.
It is important to recognize, however, that many people who have type 2 diabetes may display no symptoms.
Diagnosis of diabetes
Speak with your doctor and ask him or her to test you for diabetes using one of the following tests. The amount of glucose (sugar) in your blood is measured in mmol/L.
Fasting blood glucose
You must not eat or drink anything except water for at least eight hours before this test. A test result of 7.0 mmol/L or greater indicates diabetes.
Random blood glucose
This test may be done at any time, regardless of when you last ate. A test result of 11.0 mmol/L or greater, plus symptoms of diabetes, indicates diabetes.
This test may be done at any time, regardless of when you last ate. A test result of 6.5 % or greater (in adults) and in the absence of factors that affect the accuracy of the A1C indicates diabetes.
Oral glucose tolerance test
You will be given a special sweetened drink prior to this blood test. A test result of 11.1 mmol/L or greater taken two hours after having the sweet drink indicates diabetes.
A second test must be done in all cases (except if you have acute signs and symptoms). Once diabetes has been diagnosed, ask your doctor to refer you for diabetes education. The Canadian Diabetes Association also has many resources to help you understand diabetes better and live a long and healthy life.
Treatments & Medications
People with diabetes can expect to live active, independent and vital lives if they make a lifelong commitment to careful diabetes management.
Key elements in diabetes management
- Education: Diabetes education is an important first step. All people with diabetes need to be informed about their condition.
- Physical activity: Regular physical activity helps your body lower blood glucose levels, promotes weight loss, reduces stress and enhances overall fitness.
- Nutrition: What, when and how much you eat all play an important role in regulating blood glucose levels.
- Weight management: Maintaining a healthy weight is especially important in the management of type 2 diabetes.
- Medication: Type 1 diabetes is always treated with insulin. Type 2 diabetes is managed through physical activity and meal planning and may require medications and/or insulin to assist your body in controlling blood glucose more effectively.
- Lifestyle management: Learning to reduce stress levels in day-to-day life can help people with diabetes better manage their disease.
- Blood pressure: High blood pressure can lead to eye disease, heart disease, stroke and kidney disease, so people with diabetes should try to maintain a blood pressure level at or below 130/80. To do this, you may need to change your eating and physical activity habits and/or take medication.
Information accessed at www.diabetes.ca Reproduced with the permission by the Canadian Diabetes Association, 2014