Diabetes is a group of disorders affecting the body’s metabolism — the way the body turns food into energy. More specifically, diabetes refers to certain diseases that affect how the body uses glucose, or blood sugar.
The two chronic forms of diabetes are type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Another diabetic condition is prediabetes — when blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be considered diabetes. Some women develop what is known as gestational diabetes, which happens during pregnancy.
When someone has diabetes, regardless of which type, it means they have too much glucose in the blood. These high glucose levels can lead to a number of health problems, many of which are serious.
High blood sugar is the main symptom of diabetes. Early signs that blood sugar levels are high can include:
- Being very thirsty
- Feeling hungry
- Blurry eyesight
- Losing feeling or feeling tingling in your feet
- Losing weight without trying
- Frequent urination
Additional signs that blood sugar is high may include the following:
- Deep, rapid breathing
- Dry skin and mouth
- Flushed face
- Fruity breath odor
- Nausea or vomiting; inability to keep down fluids
- Stomach pain
Patients with either type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes may experience these symptoms. However, people with type 2 often have no symptoms at first. They may not experience symptoms for many years.
The fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test measures blood sugar levels in an individual who has not eaten anything for at least eight full hours. This is the preferred and most common test for diagnosing diabetes because of its convenience and low cost.
A random plasma glucose test, also known as a casual plasma glucose test, measures blood sugar without regard to when the person being tested last ate. This test is often used with an assessment of symptoms for a proper diagnosis.
If you suspect you are at risk for diabetes or if diabetes runs in your family, schedule an appointment with your doctor or other health care provider in order to receive proper testing for diabetes.
A healthy diet, physical activity and insulin therapy are the basic treatments for diabetes. In addition, blood sugar levels must be closely monitored.
People with type 2 diabetes may need one or more diabetes medications to control their insulin levels.
There are numerous medications for those with diabetes. Diabetes medications not only help to keep blood sugar levels in a target range, but also to prevent further complications of the condition. Such possible complications include heart disease, heart attack, kidney disease, nerve damage, digestive problems, eye disease, and tooth and gum problems.
Metformin is the first choice diabetes medication recommended by the American Diabetes Association for those with type 2 diabetes. This medication lowers the amount of glucose (sugar) made by the liver, thereby preventing blood sugar levels from getting too high.
Diabetes patients use a number of other medications to manage blood sugar levels. Examples of such medications include:
- Januvia (sitagliptin)
- Actos (pioglitazone)
- Avandia (rosiglitazone)
- Byetta (exenatide)
- Symlin (pramlintide)
- Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors (Miglitol, Acarbose)
- Starlix (nateglinide)
- Prandin (repaglinide)
Managing diabetes involves more than taking medications to keep blood sugar levels under control — it is also essential to eat healthy and exercise.
Diabetes patients also much manage blood pressure and cholesterol levels to lower risk for heart disease and other cardiovascular complications of diabetes. Aspirin therapy, if recommended by a doctor or health care professional, and quitting smoking can reduce cardiovascular risks.
Glucose is one of the body’s main sources for fuel, and is thus important for overall health. After our bodies digest food, glucose passes into the bloodstream where it is absorbed by cells for growth and energy. However, for glucose to get into the cells, the hormone insulin must be present. Insulin is made by a large gland behind the stomach called the pancreas.
When we eat, our pancreas automatically creates the right amount of insulin to move glucose from blood into the cells. In those with diabetes, however, the pancreas makes little or no insulin or the cells do not respond correctly to the insulin which is produced. Glucose then builds up in the blood and overflows into the urine. Thus, the body loses its primary source of fuel.
In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas no longer produces insulin because the body’s own immune system has attacked and destroyed the pancreatic cells that specialize in insulin production. In type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the condition, muscle, liver and fat cells in the body do not use insulin properly. As a result, the body needs more insulin to help glucose enter the cells to be converted to energy. In time, the pancreas loses its ability to make enough insulin.Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that first develops during pregnancy.