Diabetes is a disease that affects the sugar level in your blood, called your blood glucose. The sugar in your blood comes from the carbohydrates you eat, like bread and cereal. During digestion, your body breaks the carbohydrates into a simple sugar called glucose, which releases into the bloodstream. A hormone called insulin helps cells absorb the glucose from the bloodstream, which lowers your blood glucose. If you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make any insulin, doesn’t make enough insulin, or isn’t using the insulin it makes properly.
There are two types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2. Before Type 2 diabetes, there is prediabetes, where glucose levels are high but not high enough for diabetes. At this stage, the body is making less insulin. Prediabetes affects more than 30% of all Americans, but most don’t know that they have it because they don’t know the signs and symptoms until it becomes diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes, also called insulin-dependent diabetes, is an autoimmune reaction, meaning that your body attacks itself, specifically the pancreas, which is the organ that makes insulin. Since the pancreas can no longer make insulin, glucose builds up in the blood, resulting in high blood sugar levels. Type 1 diabetes is caused by genetics and viruses, not lifestyle, and is not related to prediabetes.
Symptoms of Type 1 diabetes can arise in as little as a few weeks and as long as a few years. They include frequent urination, since your kidneys are trying to rid of the sugar building up in your blood; thirst and dry skin from losing all of those fluids; and hunger, since your cells aren’t drawing the energy they need from the food you eat. One of the dangers of Type 1 diabetes is the buildup of ketones, which are waste products that come from breaking down fats for energy when the cells cannot use glucose. This problem is called diabetic ketoacidosis.
Type 2 diabetes, also called adult-onset diabetes, is a lifelong condition that is what most people mean when they talk about diabetes. Unlike Type 1 diabetes, where the pancreas cannot produce insulin, with Type 2 diabetes, you continue to make insulin, but either you don’t make enough or your body does not use it as well as it should. The symptoms for Type 2 diabetes are the same as the symptoms for Type 1 diabetes.
There are many reasons that someone might develop diabetes. The cause of the condition is usually a combination of factors, like growing old, not moving enough, and eating too much unhealthy food. Having a family history of diabetes places you at risk for having diabetes yourself. If you think that you could develop diabetes, testing your blood glucose levels is a good idea, since you don’t notice most physical symptoms of diabetes until it’s too late. Ideally, you’ll stop the condition in the prediabetes stage or sooner.
If you already have diabetes, there are ways to manage it and live a happy and active life. Patients with Type 1 diabetes will need regular insulin therapy, where they will have insulin injected into their bloodstream with a needle, a pen, or a pump. For both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, regular glucose monitoring is essential. Monitoring blood glucose levels helps patients and their doctors know what treatments to use.
Lifestyle changes are another part of diabetes management. Physical activity can control blood glucose levels and weight and keep your heart strong and healthy. To prevent blood sugar spikes, keeping sugar intake low and eating the right kinds of carbohydrates (high-fiber whole grains instead of low-fiber refined grains) can make a big difference.
Eating a balanced diet is also very important for managing diabetes. Some people think that having diabetes means that you can’t ever have treats like candy, chocolate, or cake, but that’s not true. The key is to not eat too much of them. One option for diabetics is to eat sugar-free alternatives to their favorite treats. You can find sugar-free candies online or in stores to satisfy your sweet tooth without raising blood glucose levels high. Some brands have specific diabetic candy and snack options. You can even find delicious sugar-free chocolates.
What Is Diabetes?
- The A1C Test and Diabetes
- How Does Diabetes Affect the Body?
- How Our Bodies Turn Food Into Energy
- How Your Body Uses Glucose and Insulin
- What Are Normal Blood Glucose Levels?
- Four Diet Changes That Can Help Reverse Prediabetes
- Medical or Lifestyle Changes for Prediabetes
- Prediabetes: What Does it Mean for Your Kidneys?
- The Surprising Truth About Prediabetes
- What Everyone Needs to Know About Prediabetes
Type 1 Diabetes
- Autoimmunity and Diabetes
- Diabetic Ketoacidosis
- Early Symptoms of Diabetes
- Type 1 Diabetes in Children
- What Is Type 1 Diabetes?
Type 2 Diabetes
- Nine Early Warning Signs and Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes
- Causes and Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes
- Differences Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes
- Overview of Type 2 Diabetes
- Why High Blood Sugar Is a Sign of Untreated Diabetes
- Five Methods Used to Test for Diabetes
- Ten Tips to Help Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
- Diabetes Prevention
- How to Eat to Prevent Diabetes
- The Role of Exercise in Diabetes Prevention and Control