What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes (diabetes mellitus) is classed as a metabolism disorder. Metabolism refers to the way our bodies use digested food for energy and growth. Most of what we eat is broken down into glucose. Glucose is a form of sugar in the blood – it is the principal source of fuel for our bodies.
When our food is digested, the glucose makes its way into our bloodstream and our cells use the glucose for energy and growth. However, glucose cannot enter our cells without insulin being present – insulin makes it possible for our cells to take in the glucose. Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the pancreas. After eating, the pancreas automatically releases an adequate quantity of insulin to move the glucose present in our blood into the cells, and lowers the blood sugar level.
A person with diabetes has a condition in which the quantity of glucose in the blood is too elevated (hyperglycemia). This is because the body either does not produce enough insulin, produces no insulin, or has cells that do not respond properly to the insulin the pancreas produces. This results in too much glucose building up in the blood. So even though the blood has plenty of glucose, the cells are not getting it for their essential energy and growth requirements.
Three Main Types of Diabetes
- Type 1 diabetes (sometimes called juvenile diabetes) is usually found in young children and teenagers, but can also occur later in life. In type 1 diabetes, your body is not producing insulin. The normal treatment for people with type 1 diabetes is daily injections of insulin, which keeps the blood sugar level within normal ranges.
- Type 2 diabetes (sometimes called mature onset diabetes) is the most common form of diabetes. With type 2 diabetes, your body might be producing too little insulin, or it might not be reacting to the insulin correctly. Either way, the end result is that glucose builds up in the bloodstream instead of going into the cells. Type 2 diabetes usually appears later in life, often between the ages of 40-64 years. As it often develops slowly, many people may not recognize the symptoms, and may have diabetes without knowing it. Left untreated, high blood sugar can cause serious long-term health problems.
- Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that is first seen in a pregnant woman who did not have diabetes before she was pregnant. In gestational diabetes, a woman’s blood sugar is higher than normal because the other hormones produced during pregnancy interfere with insulin that is produced naturally. Gestational diabetes testing is done during the 24th to 28th weeks of pregnancy, and, in most cases, disappears once the baby is born.While there can be complications caused by gestational diabetes, these can be managed by careful attention to nutrition and blood sugar levels. Women with gestational diabetes have a 40-60 percent chance of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
Could You Have Diabetes?
About 29.1 million Americans are believed to have diabetes. More than 25 percent of people with diabetes are undiagnosed. Symptoms vary or may not even be apparent. A simple blood screening is the first step.
Common symptoms of diabetes include:
- Extreme thirst
- Frequent urination
- Intense hunger
- Blurred vision
- Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Itchy skin
- Nausea and vomiting
- Skin infections
- Numbness or tingling in fingers or toes
- Sores slow to heal (especially on the feet)
Finding out you have diabetes can be upsetting, but it should not prevent you from living a long and happy life.
At Providence, we offer you the opportunity to learn and manage your diabetes. When you are able to control your blood sugar levels, you can reduce the long-term complications of the disease. Unmanaged (or poorly managed) diabetes can lead to medical complications as serious as blindness, emergency amputations, or permanent damage to internal organs. Providence Diabetes Center offers you the opportunity to understand and learn how to self manage your diabetes. Diabetes self-management is something everyone with diabetes should take seriously.