What Are the Basics of Diabetes?

Overview

Diabetes, also called diabetes mellitus, is a disease when your blood glucose (blood sugar) is too high. It occurs when insulin production is inadequate, or your body’s cells do not respond properly to insulin. Insulin regulates the metabolism of carbohydrates, by promoting the absorption of carbohydrates, especially glucose from the blood into liver, fat and skeletal muscle cells. Inadequate insulin production or low responding to insulin causes excess sugars exist in your blood, which may lead to severe problems.

Over time, having too much glucose in your blood can cause health problems, such as heart disease, nerve damage, eye problems, and kidney disease. These are called complications of diabetes. These complications can be prevented when you manage your blood glucose well.

About 30 million people in the United States have diabetes. About one in four people with diabetes don’t know they have the disease.

 

Symptoms

The symptoms of diabetes vary from one to another. People with type 2 diabetes may not experience any symptoms, or the symptoms appear gradually. However, the symptoms of type 1 diabetes may appear quickly. The common symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Fatigue
  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Extreme hunger
  • Irritability
  • Blurred vision
  • Slow-healing sores
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Frequent infections, such as gums or skin infections and vaginal infections.

 

Causes

There are two types of chronic diabetes — type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes:

Causes of type 1 diabetes

The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown. What is known is that your immune system attacks and destroys your insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. This leaves you with little or no insulin. Instead of being transported into your cells, sugar builds up in your bloodstream.

Causes of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes

In type 2 diabetes, your cells become resistant to the action of insulin, and your pancreas is unable to make enough insulin to overcome this resistance. Instead of moving into your cells where it’s needed for energy, sugar builds up in your bloodstream.

Risk factors

Risk factors for type 1 diabetes

  • Family history.
  • Damaged immune system cells (autoantibodies).
  • Circumstances, such as exposure to certain virus, the prime viral candidates for causing type 1 diabetes in humans are enteroviruses
  • Geography, people in Finland and Sweden are more likely to develop type 1 diabetes

Risk factors for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes

  • Overweight.
  • Lack of exercise
  • Family history.
  • Race, American-African, Hispanics, American Indians and Asian-Americans, are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
  • Age, risk will increase as you age.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome.
  • High blood pressure.
  • High cholesterol.

 

Diagnosis

Health care professionals most often use the fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test or the A1C test to diagnose diabetes. In some cases, they may use a random plasma glucose (RPG) test.

Fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test

The FPG blood test measures your blood glucose level at a single point in time. For the most reliable results, it is best to have this test in the morning, after you fast for at least 8 hours. Fasting means having nothing to eat or drink except sips of water.

A1C test

The A1C test is a blood test that provides your average levels of blood glucose over the past 3 months. Other names for the A1C test are hemoglobin A1C, HbA1C, glycated hemoglobin, and glycosylated hemoglobin test. You can eat and drink before this test. When it comes to using the A1C to diagnose diabetes, your doctor will consider factors such as your age and whether you have anemia or another problem with your blood. The A1C test is not accurate in people with anemia.

If you’re of African, Mediterranean, or Southeast Asian descent, your A1C test results may be falsely high or low. Your health care professional may need to order a different type of A1C test.

Your health care professional will report your A1C test result as a percentage, such as an A1C of 7 percent. The higher the percentage, the higher your average blood glucose levels.

People with diabetes also use information from the A1C test to help manage their diabetes.

Random plasma glucose (RPG) test

Sometimes health care professionals use the RPG test to diagnose diabetes when diabetes symptoms are present and they do not want to wait until you have fasted. You do not need to fast overnight for the RPG test. You may have this blood test at any time.

If you have a blood sugar test value and want to know if it’s a normal range, try our blood sugar checker, an easy-to-use tool. 

Blood Sugar Checker

Treatment

Treatment of diabetes include medication, diet therapy and physical activity.

Medication

Type 1 diabetes

If you have type 1 diabetes, you must take insulin because your body no longer makes this hormone. You will need to take insulin several times during the day, including with meals. You also could use an insulin pump, which gives you small, steady doses throughout the day.

Type 2 diabetes

Some people with type 2 diabetes can manage their disease by making healthy food choices and being more physically active. Many people with type 2 diabetes need diabetes medicines as well. These medicines may include diabetes pills or medicines you inject under your skin, such as insulin. In time, you may need more than one diabetes medicine to control your blood glucose. Even if you do not take insulin, you may need it at special times, such as during pregnancy or if you are in the hospital.

Diet

Eat more fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains.
Cut down on saturated fats, refined carbohydrates and sweets.

Physical activity

Do aerobic exercises, such as walking, swimming or biking,for 30 minutes or more a day..

  • Monitor your blood sugar
  • Inject insulin
  • Medications, such as Metformin (Glucophage, Glumetza, others)
  • Pancreas transplant (only for type 1 diabetes)

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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.