And remember not to let others scare you into thinking the worst. Getting educated will help you to understand that a diabetes diagnosis, while serious, is not the end of the world. For some people, lifestyle modifications such as weight loss, healthy eating, and exercise can actually get blood sugars below the diabetes threshold. You can control your diabetes and not let it control you.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Your body is like a car—it needs fuel to function. Its primary source of fuel is glucose (sugar), which is gained from foods that contain carbohydrates that get broken down. Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, takes sugar from your blood to your cells to use for energy. However, when you have diabetes, either your pancreas isn't making enough insulin or the insulin that your body is making isn't being used the way it's supposed to be, typically because the cells become resistant to it.
When diabetes occurs in women during pregnancy, it is called gestational diabetes. It usually is diagnosed between the 24th and 28th weeks of pregnancy. Like in type 1 and type 2 diabetes, blood sugar levels become too high. When women are pregnant, more glucose is needed to nourish the developing baby. The body needs more insulin, which is produced by the pancreas. In some women, the body does not produce enough insulin to meet this need, and blood sugar levels rise, resulting in gestational diabetes.
Scientists have done studies of twins to help estimate how important genes are in determining one's risk of developing diabetes. Identical twins have identical genes and thus the same genetic risk for a disease. Research has found that if one identical twin has type 1 diabetes, the chance that the other twin will get the disease is roughly 40 or 50 percent. For type 2 diabetes, that risk goes up to about 80 or 90 percent. This might suggest that genes play a bigger role in type 2 than in type 1, but that isn't necessarily so. Type 2 is far more common in the general population than type 1, which means that regardless of genetics both twins are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes experts feel that these blood glucose monitoring devices give patients a significant amount of independence to manage their disease process; and they are a great tool for education as well. It is also important to remember that these devices can be used intermittently with fingerstick measurements. For example, a well-controlled patient with diabetes can rely on fingerstick glucose checks a few times a day and do well. If they become ill, if they decide to embark on a new exercise regimen, if they change their diet and so on, they can use the sensor to supplement their fingerstick regimen, providing more information on how they are responding to new lifestyle changes or stressors. This kind of system takes us one step closer to closing the loop, and to the development of an artificial pancreas that senses insulin requirements based on glucose levels and the body's needs and releases insulin accordingly - the ultimate goal.
Studies in type 1 patients have shown that in intensively treated patients, diabetic eye disease decreased by 76%, kidney disease decreased by 54%, and nerve disease decreased by 60%. More recently the EDIC trial has shown that type 1 diabetes is also associated with increased heart disease, similar to type 2 diabetes. However, the price for aggressive blood sugar control is a two to three fold increase in the incidence of abnormally low blood sugar levels (caused by the diabetes medications). For this reason, tight control of diabetes to achieve glucose levels between 70 to120 mg/dl is not recommended for children under 13 years of age, patients with severe recurrent hypoglycemia, patients unaware of their hypoglycemia, and patients with far advanced diabetes complications. To achieve optimal glucose control without an undue risk of abnormally lowering blood sugar levels, patients with type 1 diabetes must monitor their blood glucose at least four times a day and administer insulin at least three times per day. In patients with type 2 diabetes, aggressive blood sugar control has similar beneficial effects on the eyes, kidneys, nerves and blood vessels.
The major eye complication of diabetes is called diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy occurs in patients who have had diabetes for at least five years. Diseased small blood vessels in the back of the eye cause the leakage of protein and blood in the retina. Disease in these blood vessels also causes the formation of small aneurysms (microaneurysms), and new but brittle blood vessels (neovascularization). Spontaneous bleeding from the new and brittle blood vessels can lead to retinal scarring and retinal detachment, thus impairing vision.
Type 1 diabetes mellitus can occur at any age, but incidence rates generally increase with age until midpuberty and then decline.  Onset in the first year of life, although unusual, can occur, so type 1 diabetes mellitus must be considered in any infant or toddler, because these children have the greatest risk for mortality if diagnosis is delayed. (Because diabetes is easily missed in an infant or preschool-aged child, if in doubt, check the urine for glucose.) Symptoms in infants and toddlers may include the following:
At present, the American Diabetes Association does not recommend general screening of the population for type 1 diabetes, though screening of high risk individuals, such as those with a first degree relative (sibling or parent) with type 1 diabetes should be encouraged. Type 1 diabetes tends to occur in young, lean individuals, usually before 30 years of age; however, older patients do present with this form of diabetes on occasion. This subgroup is referred to as latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA). LADA is a slow, progressive form of type 1 diabetes. Of all the people with diabetes, only approximately 10% have type 1 diabetes and the remaining 90% have type 2 diabetes.
Research has shown that there are some ways of preventing type 2 diabetes, or at least delaying its onset. Lifestyle changes such as becoming more active (or staying active, if you already engage in regular physical activity) and making sure your weight stays in a healthy range are two ways to help ward off type 2 diabetes, but talk to your doctor about what else you can do to prevent or manage the disease.
Diabetes mellitus occurs throughout the world but is more common (especially type 2) in more developed countries. The greatest increase in rates has however been seen in low- and middle-income countries, where more than 80% of diabetic deaths occur. The fastest prevalence increase is expected to occur in Asia and Africa, where most people with diabetes will probably live in 2030. The increase in rates in developing countries follows the trend of urbanization and lifestyle changes, including increasingly sedentary lifestyles, less physically demanding work and the global nutrition transition, marked by increased intake of foods that are high energy-dense but nutrient-poor (often high in sugar and saturated fats, sometimes referred to as the "Western-style" diet). The global prevalence of diabetes might increase by 55% between 2013 and 2035.
Findings from the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT) and the United Kingdom Prospective Diabetes Study (UKPDS) have clearly shown that aggressive and intensive control of elevated levels of blood sugar in patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes decreases the complications of nephropathy, neuropathy, retinopathy, and may reduce the occurrence and severity of large blood vessel diseases. Aggressive control with intensive therapy means achieving fasting glucose levels between 70-120 mg/dl; glucose levels of less than 160 mg/dl after meals; and a near normal hemoglobin A1c levels (see below).
Clinistix and Diastix are paper strips or dipsticks that change color when dipped in urine. The test strip is compared to a chart that shows the amount of glucose in the urine based on the change in color. The level of glucose in the urine lags behind the level of glucose in the blood. Testing the urine with a test stick, paper strip, or tablet that changes color when sugar is present is not as accurate as blood testing, however it can give a fast and simple reading.
Type 2 diabetes can be prevented with lifestyle changes. People who are overweight and lose as little as 7 percent of their body weight and who increase physical activity (for example, walking 30 minutes per day) can decrease their risk of diabetes mellitus by more than 50%. Metformin and acarbose, drugs that are used to treat diabetes, may reduce the risk of diabetes in people with impaired glucose regulation.
Metformin is generally recommended as a first line treatment for type 2 diabetes, as there is good evidence that it decreases mortality. It works by decreasing the liver's production of glucose. Several other groups of drugs, mostly given by mouth, may also decrease blood sugar in type II DM. These include agents that increase insulin release, agents that decrease absorption of sugar from the intestines, and agents that make the body more sensitive to insulin. When insulin is used in type 2 diabetes, a long-acting formulation is usually added initially, while continuing oral medications. Doses of insulin are then increased to effect.
Most cases (95%) of type 1 diabetes mellitus are the result of environmental factors interacting with a genetically susceptible person. This interaction leads to the development of autoimmune disease directed at the insulin-producing cells of the pancreatic islets of Langerhans. These cells are progressively destroyed, with insulin deficiency usually developing after the destruction of 90% of islet cells.
If eaten as part of a healthy meal plan, or combined with exercise, sweets and desserts can be eaten by people with diabetes. They are no more "off limits" to people with diabetes than they are to people without diabetes. The key to sweets is to have a very small portion and save them for special occasions so you focus your meal on more healthful foods.
The protocol for therapy is determined by the type of diabetes; patients with either type 1 or type 2 must pay attention to their diet and exercise regimens. Insulin therapy may be prescribed for patients with type 2 diabetes as well as any who are dependent on insulin. In most cases, the type 2 diabetes patient can be treated effectively by reducing caloric intake, maintaining target weight, and promoting physical exercise.
When you have diabetes, your body becomes less efficient at breaking food down into sugar, so you have more sugar sitting in your bloodstream, says Dobbins. “Your body gets rid of it by flushing it out in the urine.” So going to the bathroom a lot could be one of the diabetes symptoms you’re missing. Most patients aren’t necessarily aware of how often they use the bathroom, says Dr. Cypess. “When we ask about it, we often hear, ‘Oh yeah, I guess I’m going more often than I used to,’” he says. But one red flag is whether the need to urinate keeps you up at night. Once or twice might be normal, but if it’s affecting your ability to sleep, that could be a diabetes symptom to pay attention to. Make sure you know these diabetes myths that could sabotage your health.
A1C: Your A1C, also called glycated hemoglobin, reflects your average blood glucose levels for the past 2 to 3 months. If your A1C is 6.5% or greater, your doctor may diagnose diabetes. If your A1C is between 6.0% and 6.4%, your doctor may diagnose prediabetes. Of note, A1C cannot be used to diagnose type 1 diabetes, diabetes in children, adolescents, or pregnant women.
Along with following your diabetes care plan, you may need diabetes medicines, which may include pills or medicines you inject under your skin, such as insulin. Over time, you may need more than one diabetes medicine to manage your blood glucose. Even if you don’t take insulin, you may need it at special times, such as during pregnancy or if you are in the hospital. You also may need medicines for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or other conditions.
The term "diabetes" or "to pass through" was first used in 230 BCE by the Greek Apollonius of Memphis. The disease was considered rare during the time of the Roman empire, with Galen commenting he had only seen two cases during his career. This is possibly due to the diet and lifestyle of the ancients, or because the clinical symptoms were observed during the advanced stage of the disease. Galen named the disease "diarrhea of the urine" (diarrhea urinosa).
People with T2D produce insulin, but their bodies don’t use it correctly; this is referred to as being insulin resistant. People with type 2 diabetes may also be unable to produce enough insulin to handle the glucose in their body. In these instances, insulin is needed to allow the glucose to travel from the bloodstream into our cells, where it’s used to create energy.
Diabetes also can cause heart disease and stroke, as well as other long-term complications, including eye problems, kidney disease, nerve damage, and gum disease. While these problems don't usually show up in kids or teens who've had type 2 diabetes for only a few years, they can affect them in adulthood, particularly if their diabetes isn't well controlled.
The diabetic patient should learn to recognize symptoms of low blood sugar (such as confusion, sweats, and palpitations) and high blood sugar (such as, polyuria and polydipsia). When either condition results in hospitalization, vital signs, weight, fluid intake, urine output, and caloric intake are accurately documented. Serum glucose and urine ketone levels are evaluated. Chronic management of DM is also based on periodic measurement of glycosylated hemoglobin levels (HbA1c). Elevated levels of HbA1c suggest poor long-term glucose control. The effects of diabetes on other body systems (such as cerebrovascular, coronary artery, and peripheral vascular) should be regularly assessed. Patients should be evaluated regularly for retinal disease and visual impairment and peripheral and autonomic nervous system abnormalities, e.g., loss of sensation in the feet. The patient is observed for signs and symptoms of diabetic neuropathy, e.g., numbness or pain in the hands and feet, decreased vibratory sense, footdrop, and neurogenic bladder. The urine is checked for microalbumin or overt protein losses, an early indication of nephropathy. The combination of peripheral neuropathy and peripheral arterial disease results in changes in the skin and microvasculature that lead to ulcer formation on the feet and lower legs with poor healing. Approx. 45,000 lower-extremity diabetic amputations are performed in the U.S. each year. Many amputees have a second amputation within five years. Most of these amputations are preventable with regular foot care and examinations. Diabetic patients and their providers should look for changes in sensation to touch and vibration, the integrity of pulses, capillary refill, and the skin. All injuries, cuts, and blisters should be treated promptly. The patient should avoid constricting hose, slippers, shoes, and bed linens or walking barefoot. The patient with ulcerated or insensitive feet is referred to a podiatrist for continuing foot care and is warned that decreased sensation can mask injuries.
Oral Agents. Oral antidiabetic drugs (see hypoglycemic agents) are sometimes prescribed for patients with type 2 diabetes who cannot control their blood glucose with diet and exercise. These are not oral forms of insulin; they are sulfonylureas, chemically related to the sulfonamide antibiotics. Patients receiving them should be taught that the drug they are taking does not eliminate the need for a diet and exercise program. Only the prescribed dosage should be taken; it should never be increased to make up for dietary indiscretions or discontinued unless authorized by the physician.
The genes identified so far in people with type 2 include many that affect the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas, says Craig Hanis, PhD, a professor at the Human Genetics Center at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. And yet he emphasizes that why people get type 2 isn't at all clear yet: "What it tells us is that diabetes is a complicated disease."
6. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): This is a common cause of female infertility and insulin resistance. It can cause signs and symptoms like irregular periods, acne, thinning scalp hair, and excess hair growth on the face and body. High insulin levels also increase the risk of developing diabetes, and about half of women with PCOS develop diabetes.