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Understanding Diabetes

By David Chandler

To manage diabetes, it helps to understand how it affects your body. In healthy people, the body turns food into glucose (blood sugar) to use for energy. Insulin, produced by the pancreas, is the hormone responsible for shuttling glucose into the body's cells where it is either used right away or stored for later use. With diabetes, however, high levels of glucose build up in the blood because either the pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin or the body can't use the insulin it produces. Your treatment will depend on which problem you have.

Diabetes is broken down into three categories: type 1 or type 2 or gestational.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body's immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, usually leading to a total halt in insulin production. Insulin shots or the use an insulin pump to keep the blood glucose within normal range is a daily activity. Insulin - stimulates the entry of glucose into fat cells. Glucose is a simple sugar that normally enters the cells of liver, fat and muscle to be stored or converted into energy. Because insulin is one of the "major" hormones, it's also impossible for your body to balance its "minor" hormones until your insulin metabolism is balanced first. Without insulin, blood glucose rises to dangerously high levels, if not treated it can lead to a coma or death. Type 1 most often occurs in children or young adults. Type 1 diabetes is usually referred to as insulin-dependent or juvenile diabetes. Type 1 diabetes often appears suddenly. Knowing the symptoms of diabetes can help you determine what steps to take. Here are some of the symptoms:

  • High levels of sugar in the blood

  • High levels of sugar in the urine

  • Frequent urination

  • Extreme hunger

  • Extreme thirst

  • Extreme weight loss

  • Weakness and fatigue

  • Moodiness and irritability

  • Nausea and vomiting

In type 2, the pancreas produces some insulin, but the body in unable to use it properly. This leads to high levels of glucose in the blood. Because people with type 2 diabetes are often overweight, treatment usually includes weight loss. Until recently, type 2 diabetes was called non-insulin dependent or adult-onset diabetes. Often, type 2 diabetes develops slowly, and symptoms are mild:

  • Increased thirst

  • More frequent urination

  • Edginess, fatigue, and nausea

  • Increased appetite accompanied by weight loss

  • Repeated or hard-to-heal infections (for example, skin, gum, vaginal, or bladder)

  • Blurred vision

  • Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet

  • Dry, itchy skin

Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy when blood glucose levels rise above average. After delivery, blood glucose usually returns to normal, though women who have gestational diabetes are at greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Gestational diabetes, if left uncontrolled can lead to high blood pressure or a large baby. Most pregnant women are routinely tested for the condition. If you test positive, your doctor and registered dietitian will work closely with you to keep your blood glucose under control.

For anyone with diabetes, it is encouraging to know that the future gets brighter every day for managing the disease. Ongoing research provides people with the most up-to-date information and successful treatment plans possible. Diabetes information along with good diabetes management will help your body to function closer to normal.

To help you feel confident in managing diabetes, you can obtain additional information on what it is, who is at risk, how it's diagnosed, and how it's treated. You can also get information on eating well with diabetes. You can learn the role of food in managing your blood sugar levels. You'll also get the latest nutrition advice; tips for shopping, cooking, and eating out; and the basics of building a meal plan using food exchange tips from the American Diabetes Association and The American Dietetic Association.


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