To explain what hemoglobin A1c is, think in simple terms. Sugar sticks, and when it's around for a long time, it's harder to get it off. In the body, sugar sticks too, particularly to proteins. The red blood cells that circulate in the body live for about three months before they die off. When sugar sticks to these hemoglobin proteins in these cells, it is known as glycosylated hemoglobin or hemoglobin A1c (HBA1c). Measurement of HBA1c gives us an idea of how much sugar is present in the bloodstream for the preceding three months. In most labs, the normal range is 4%-5.9 %. In poorly controlled diabetes, its 8.0% or above, and in well controlled patients it's less than 7.0% (optimal is <6.5%). The benefits of measuring A1c is that is gives a more reasonable and stable view of what's happening over the course of time (three months), and the value does not vary as much as finger stick blood sugar measurements. There is a direct correlation between A1c levels and average blood sugar levels as follows.

Diabetes mellitus (DM) is best defined as a syndrome characterized by inappropriate fasting or postprandial hyperglycemia, caused by absolute or relative insulin deficiency and its metabolic consequences, which include disturbed metabolism of protein and fat. This syndrome results from a combination of deficiency of insulin secretion and its action. Diabetes mellitus occurs when the normal constant of the product of insulin secretion times insulin sensitivity, a parabolic function termed the “disposition index” (Figure 19-1), is inadequate to prevent hyperglycemia and its clinical consequences of polyuria, polydipsia, and weight loss. At high degrees of insulin sensitivity, small declines in the ability to secrete insulin cause only mild, clinically imperceptible defects in glucose metabolism. However, irrespective of insulin sensitivity, a minimum amount of insulin is necessary for normal metabolism. Thus, near absolute deficiency of insulin must result in severe metabolic disturbance as occurs in type 1 diabetes mellitus (T1DM). By contrast, with decreasing sensitivity to its action, higher amounts of insulin secretion are required for a normal disposition index. At a critical point in the disposition index curve (see Figure 19-1), a further small decrement in insulin sensitivity requires a large increase in insulin secretion; those who can mount these higher rates of insulin secretion retain normal glucose metabolism, whereas those who cannot increase their insulin secretion because of genetic or acquired defects now manifest clinical diabetes as occurs in type 2 diabetes (T2DM).
a broadly applied term used to denote a complex group of syndromes that have in common a disturbance in the oxidation and utilization of glucose, which is secondary to a malfunction of the beta cells of the pancreas, whose function is the production and release of insulin. Because insulin is involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, diabetes is not limited to a disturbance of glucose homeostasis alone.
Then, once you do have an injury, uncontrolled diabetes can make it harder for your body to heal. “High blood sugars provide a good environment for bacteria to grow,” she says. That's because diabetes is also often accompanied by high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and the resulting plaque buildup can narrow blood vessels, reducing blood supply and leading to slow healing.

Many studies have shown that awareness about the diabetes and its complications is poor among the general population specially in the rural areas6,7. There is an urgent need to create awareness among the population regarding diabetes and about the serious consequences of this chronic disorder. Epidemiological data from India have shown the presence of a number of risk factors which can be easily identified by simple non-invasive risk scores8,9. The major risk factors are listed in Box 1.
One particular type of sugar that has attracted a lot of negative attention is high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) — and for good reason, as multiple studies suggest HFCS can influence diabetes risk. Some research in people who are overweight and obese, for example, suggests regularly consuming drinks sweetened with either fructose, a byproduct of HFCS, or glucose can lead to weight gain, and drinks with fructose in particular may reduce insulin sensitivity and spike blood sugar levels.
Regarding age, data shows that for each decade after 40 years of age regardless of weight there is an increase in incidence of diabetes. The prevalence of diabetes in persons 65 years of age and older is around 25%. Type 2 diabetes is also more common in certain ethnic groups. Compared with a 7% prevalence in non-Hispanic Caucasians, the prevalence in Asian Americans is estimated to be 8.0%, in Hispanics 13%, in blacks around 12.3%, and in certain Native American communities 20% to 50%. Finally, diabetes occurs much more frequently in women with a prior history of diabetes that develops during pregnancy (gestational diabetes).

Diabetes mellitus is not a single disorder but a heterogeneous group of disorders. All forms are characterized by hyperglycemia and disturbances of carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism which are associated with absolute or relative deficiencies of insulin action and/or insulin secretion. The World Health Organization (WHO) developed a now widely accepted classification of the disorder, largely based on clinical characteristics (see Table 1, WHO, 1985).

Janis McWilliams, RN, MSN, CDE, BC-ADM, responds: Yes, in type 1 diabetes in particular, the onset of symptoms like frequent urination and extreme thirst can be very sudden. In type 2 diabetes, the symptoms tend to come about more gradually, and sometimes there are no signs at all. People who have symptoms should contact their health care provider immediately for an accurate diagnosis. Keep in mind that these symptoms could signal other problems, too.

This depends on the type of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes, and to a lesser extent type 1 diabetes, may run in families. If a parent has diabetes, their children will not necessarily get it but they are at an increased risk. In type 2 diabetes, lifestyle factors such as being overweight (obesity) and lack of exercise can significantly increase your risk of developing diabetes. Some rarer types of diabetes mellitus may be inherited.


About 40% of diabetes sufferers require oral agents for satisfactory blood glucose control, and some 40% need insulin injections. This hormone was isolated by Frederic Banting and Charles Best in 1921 in Canada. It revolutionized the treatment of diabetes and prevention of its complications, transforming Type 1 diabetes from a fatal disease to one in which long-term survival became achievable.
The classic presenting symptoms of type 1 diabetes mellitus are discussed below. For some children, the first symptoms of diabetes mellitus are those of diabetic ketoacidosis. This is a serious and life-threatening condition, requiring immediate treatment. Ketoacidosis occurs due to a severe disturbance in the body’s metabolism. Without insulin, glucose cannot be taken up into cells. Instead fats are broken down for energy which can have acid by-products.  
Diabetic foot disease, due to changes in blood vessels and nerves, often leads to ulceration and subsequent limb amputation. It is one of the most costly complications of diabetes, especially in communities with inadequate footwear. It results from both vascular and neurological disease processes. Diabetes is the most common cause of non-traumatic amputation of the lower limb, which may be prevented by regular inspection and good care of the foot.
One of the most common ways people with type 2 diabetes attempt to lower their blood sugar is by drastically reducing their intake of carbs. The ADA agrees that carbohydrate counting is essential if you have diabetes, but extreme diets like the ketogenic diet, which reduces carb intake to as little as 5 percent of your daily calories, can be risky for some people with diabetes. (36)

According to the American Diabetes Association, a child has a 1 in 7 risk of getting type 2 diabetes if his/her parent was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes before the age of 50, and a 1 in 13 risk of developing it if the parent was diagnosed after the age of 50. To see if you may be at risk for diabetes, consider taking this short and simple Type 2 Diabetes Risk Test from the ADA.
There are two main kinds of diabetes: type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. More than 90% of all people with diabetes have type 2. Overall, more than 3 million Canadians have diabetes, and the number is rapidly rising. Over a third of people with type 2 diabetes are unaware they have the disease and are not receiving the required treatment because, for many people, early symptoms are not noticeable without testing.
Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), is common in people with type 1 and type 2 DM. Most cases are mild and are not considered medical emergencies. Effects can range from feelings of unease, sweating, trembling, and increased appetite in mild cases to more serious effects such as confusion, changes in behavior such as aggressiveness, seizures, unconsciousness, and (rarely) permanent brain damage or death in severe cases.[24][25] Moderately low blood sugar may easily be mistaken for drunkenness;[26] rapid breathing and sweating, cold, pale skin are characteristic of low blood sugar but not definitive.[27] Mild to moderate cases are self-treated by eating or drinking something high in sugar. Severe cases can lead to unconsciousness and must be treated with intravenous glucose or injections with glucagon.[28]
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.
In ‘type 2 diabetes’ (previously called non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus), which accounts for 90% of all diabetes, the beta cells do not stop making insulin completely, but the insulin produced does not work properly so it struggles to store the sugar found in the blood. As a consequence, the pancreas has to produce more insulin to compensate for this reduction in insulin function. This is called insulin resistance and is commonly linked to obesity. This type of diabetes is seen more commonly over the age of 40 years but can occur at any age.  
Our bodies break down the foods we eat into glucose and other nutrients we need, which are then absorbed into the bloodstream from the gastrointestinal tract. The glucose level in the blood rises after a meal and triggers the pancreas to make the hormone insulin and release it into the bloodstream. But in people with diabetes, the body either can't make or can't respond to insulin properly.
An article published in November 2012 in the journal Global Public Health found that countries with more access to HFCS tended to have higher rates of the disease. Though it’s likely that these countries’ overall eating habits play a role in their populations’ diabetes risk, a study published in February 2013 in the journal PLoS One found limiting access to HFCS in particular may help reduce rates of the diagnosis.
Can type 2 diabetes be prevented? It is possible to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, although the underlying risk of type 2 diabetes depends strongly on genetic factors. But there was less type 2 diabetes around some years ago when people had a more active life and didn’t eat a modern Western diet. So it is fair to say that risk of getting type 2 diabetes is based on a genetic predisposition that is aggravated by lifestyle. Type 2 diabetes is associated with obesity, as well as a variety of environmental factors. To lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes (as well as other diseases), it is highly recommended to exercise often, eat healthily, and maintain a healthy weight. 

The relationship between type 2 diabetes and the main modifiable risk factors (excess weight, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and tobacco use) is similar in all regions of the world. There is growing evidence that the underlying determinants of diabetes are a reflection of the major forces driving social, economic and cultural change: globalization, urbanization, population aging, and the general health policy environment.[74]


While discovering you have diabetes can be a terrifying prospect, the sooner you’re treated, the more manageable your condition will be. In fact, a review of research published in the American Diabetes Association journal Diabetes Care reveals that early treatment with insulin can help patients with type 2 diabetes manage their blood sugar better and gain less weight than those who start treatment later.


Classic symptoms of DM are polyuria, polydipsia, and weight loss. In addition, patients with hyperglycemia often have blurred vision, increased food consumption (polyphagia), and generalized weakness. When a patient with type 1 DM loses metabolic control (such as during infections or periods of noncompliance with therapy), symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis occur. These may include nausea, vomiting, dizziness on arising, intoxication, delirium, coma, or death. Chronic complications of hyperglycemia include retinopathy and blindness, peripheral and autonomic neuropathies, glomerulosclerosis of the kidneys (with proteinuria, nephrotic syndrome, or end-stage renal failure), coronary and peripheral vascular disease, and reduced resistance to infections. Patients with DM often also sustain infected ulcerations of the feet, which may result in osteomyelitis and the need for amputation.
What are the symptoms of diabetes in women? Diabetes can have different effects on men and women. Learn all about the symptoms of diabetes experienced by women with this article, including how the disease may affect pregnancy and the menopause. This MNT Knowledge Center article will also look at gestational diabetes and the risk factors involved. Read now
×