Diabetes Basics

Over 246 million people in the world today have diabetes. It is the fourth leading cause of death in developed countries. 3.2 million people die of diabetes-related causes every year.

So what is diabetes, exactly? First we have to understand the roles of glucose and insulin in our bodies. Glucose (sugar) in the foods we eat needs to be distributed to all the cells of our body to be used as energy. Insulin is a hormone that regulates glucose by taking it out of our bloodstream and sending it to our muscles, liver, and fat cells, to store for energy.

• Type 1 Diabetes, usually diagnosed in childhood, means that the body makes too little insulin. At present there is no known cure or method of preventing its occurrence.
• Type 2 Diabetes may be diagnosed at any time in a person’s life. It means that the body cannot properly use the insulin it makes. With proper care and attention, (eating healthy, maintaining a healthy weight, and getting enough exercise) type 2 can be avoided.

There are serious consequences to ignoring diabetes and allowing it to go untreated, but luckily there are several stages of the disease so a person with an average degree of health consciousness should be able to detect a problem and seek medical attention early on.

• Almost all cases of type 2 diabetes have pre-diabetes first. Pre-diabetes, when the blood sugar is beginning to get too high, is often signaled by excessive thirst and frequent urination. Other early warning symptoms include extreme hunger or fatigue, blurry vision, slow healing of cuts or bruises, unexplained weight loss, and tingling in the hands or feet. Now is the time to see a doctor, because…
• If untreated, advanced diabetes may damage the heart, liver, kidneys, eyes and nerves. It can cause male impotence, heart attacks, strokes, loss of limbs, blindness, or even death.
• The good news is that type 2 diabetes can sometimes be managed with healthy diet and exercising, and in some cases, medication.

With type 2 diabetes, you will need to check your blood sugar frequently, to make sure your glucose does not spike too high or dip too low, either of which can lead to medical emergencies. Your doctor may prescribe one or more oral medications to help your body make efficient use of insulin and bring your glucose to a normal level.

In some cases, it may become necessary to take insulin. Insulin is usually taken by injection (often as many as three times per day) but in some cases where glucose is particularly unstable, patients may need a 24-hour insulin pump to regulate glucose levels. You may dread the idea of taking insulin, but don’t fear! Today’s needles are extremely thin and should cause only very minor discomfort. The insulin you would inject is almost identical to that which your body would make naturally, and can be a miraculous way for you to continue living a normal life.

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