What is diabetes?
Having diabetes means that there is too much sugar (glucose) in your blood. Your body breaks down some of the foods you eat into sugar. Your blood carries the sugar to the cells of your body. You need some sugar in your cells for energy, but too much sugar in your blood is not good for your health.
Diabetes is caused by a problem with the way your body makes or uses insulin. Insulin is made by the pancreas, which is an organ in your upper belly. Your body uses insulin to help move sugar from the blood into the cells. When you do not have enough insulin or you have trouble using the insulin your body makes, sugar cannot get into your cells and builds up in your blood.
The 2 main types of diabetes are type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
- Type 1 diabetes happens when your pancreas stops making insulin. It usually starts before the age of 35.
- Type 2 diabetes happens when the body gradually loses its ability to use its own insulin or stops making enough insulin. It usually starts in adulthood but can also start when you are a child.
Healthcare providers donâ€™t know how to prevent type 1 diabetes. However, type 2 diabetes, which is much more common than type 1, can often be prevented by controlling risk factors.
What are the risk factors for type 2 diabetes?
Risk factors for type 2 diabetes that you cannot control include:
- A family history of diabetes
- A family background of Alaska Native, American Indian, African American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian American, or Pacific Islander
- Gestational diabetes during pregnancy, or your baby weighed 9 pounds or more at birth
- Polycystic ovary syndrome, a hormone problem that affects a womanâ€™s ovaries
- Being older than 45 years of age
Risk factors that you may be able to control include:
- Being overweight
- Eating a high calorie or high fat diet
- Getting little or no exercise
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol levels
- Heart disease
- Prediabetes (your blood sugar is higher than normal, but not quite high enough to be called diabetes)
What are the warning signs of diabetes?
One of the problems with type 2 diabetes is that it may not cause symptoms for months or years. Thatâ€™s why itâ€™s important to have regular checkups. When diabetes does start to cause symptoms, they may include:
- Feeling unusually thirsty
- Urinating a lot
- Unexpected weight gain or weight loss
- Feeling tired all the time
- Skin infections
- Slow healing of wounds or sores
- Blurry vision
- Repeated yeast infections of the vagina
Why is it important to prevent and treat diabetes?
Untreated diabetes can cause serious problems. Diabetes can damage small blood vessels and nerves, causing problems in the eyes, heart, brain, kidneys, skin, and feet. Having diabetes increases your risk for high blood pressure, a stroke, and problems with your heart and blood vessels. The risks for loss of vision, even blindness, are also increased. Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet are common problems due to nerve damage. Men with diabetes may start having trouble with erections. If your blood sugar level gets too high, you may go into a coma or die.
How can I help myself?
- Keep your weight under control, particularly if you have a family history of diabetes. If you are over 40 years old, or overweight, make sure your healthcare provider checks your blood sugar every year.
- Have regular medical checkups as often as your healthcare provider recommends. Don’t wait for serious problems before you see your healthcare provider.
- Watch for the warning signs of diabetes.
- Eat a low-fat diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, fiber, and lean protein. Avoid the white foods, like sugar, white flour products (white bread, biscuits, pancakes), white potatoes, and white rice. Instead, eat whole grains–for example, whole wheat flour, bran, oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice. You may want to work with a dietitian to set up a diet program that meets your needs.
- Exercise regularly, according to your healthcare provider’s instructions.
- If you smoke, try to quit. Smoking worsens the effects of diabetes, creates blockages in the blood vessels, and increases your risk of complications. Talk to your healthcare provider about ways to quit smoking.
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This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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