Get Educated: The American Diabetes Association advises that all persons with diabetes receive diabetes self-management education (DSME) at diagnosis and thereafter. A certified diabetes educator or other qualified health professional can give you the tools you need to understand and take care of your diabetes. In addition, these individuals are trained to create a customized plan that works for you. Diabetes self-management education is a patient-centered approach that enables patients to get involved in their care.
Dr. Erica Oberg, ND, MPH, received a BA in anthropology from the University of Colorado, her doctorate of naturopathic medicine (ND) from Bastyr University, and a masters of public health (MPH) in health services research from the University of Washington. She completed her residency at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health in ambulatory primary care and fellowship training at the Health Promotion Research Center at the University of Washington.
Diabetes mellitus (diabetes) is a common chronic disease of abnormal carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism that affects an estimated 20 million people in the United States, of whom about one third are undiagnosed. There are two major forms recognized, type-1 and type-2. Both are characterized by inappropriately high blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia). In type-1 diabetes the patient can not produce the hormone insulin, while in type-2 diabetes the patient produces insulin, but it is not used properly. An estimated 90% of diabetic patients suffer from type-2 disease. The causes of diabetes are multiple and both genetic and environmental factors contribute to its development. The genetic predisposition for type-2 diabetes is very strong and numerous environmental factors such as diet, lack of exercise, and being overweight are known to also increase one’s risk for diabetes. Diabetes is a dangerous disease which affects the entire body and diabetic patients are at increased risk for heart disease, hypertension, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, neuropathy, and infection when compared to nondiabetic patients. Diabetic patients also have impaired healing when compared to healthy individuals. This is in part due to the dysfunction of certain white blood cells that fight infection.
Part of a treatment plan for diabetes will involve learning about diabetes, how to manage it, and how to prevent complications. Your doctor, diabetes educator, or other health care professional will help you learn what you need to know so you are able to manage your diabetes as effectively as possible. Keep in mind that learning about diabetes and its treatment will take time. Involving family members or other people who are significant in your life can also help you manage your diabetes.
Another dipstick test can determine the presence of protein or albumin in the urine. Protein in the urine can indicate problems with kidney function and can be used to track the development of renal failure. A more sensitive test for urine protein uses radioactively tagged chemicals to detect microalbuminuria, small amounts of protein in the urine, that may not show up on dipstick tests.
People with diabetes either don't make insulin or their body's cells no longer are able to use the insulin, leading to high blood sugars. By definition, diabetes is having a blood glucose level of greater than or equal to126 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) after an 8-hour fast (not eating anything), or by having a non-fasting glucose level greater than or equal to 200 mg/dL along with symptoms of diabetes, or a glucose level of greater than or equal to 200 mg/dL on a 2-hour glucose tolerance test, or an A1C greater than or equal to 6.5%. Unless the person is having obvious symptoms of diabetes or is in a diabetic crisis, the diagnosis must be confirmed with a repeat test.
Feeling famished all the time? Your body could be trying to tell you that something’s up with your blood sugar. Many people with diabetes experience extreme hunger when their condition is unmanaged, thanks to high blood sugar levels. When your body can’t effectively convert the sugar in your blood into usable energy, this may leave you pining for every sandwich or sweet you see. And if you’re looking for a filling snack that won’t put your health at risk, enjoy one of the 25 Best and Worst Low-Sugar Protein Bars!
Type 2 diabetes usually begins with insulin resistance, a condition in which muscle, liver, and fat cells do not use insulin well. As a result, your body needs more insulin to help glucose enter cells. At first, the pancreas makes more insulin to keep up with the added demand. Over time, the pancreas can’t make enough insulin, and blood glucose levels rise.
Most cases of diabetes involve many genes, with each being a small contributor to an increased probability of becoming a type 2 diabetic. If one identical twin has diabetes, the chance of the other developing diabetes within his lifetime is greater than 90%, while the rate for nonidentical siblings is 25–50%. As of 2011, more than 36 genes had been found that contribute to the risk of type 2 diabetes. All of these genes together still only account for 10% of the total heritable component of the disease. The TCF7L2 allele, for example, increases the risk of developing diabetes by 1.5 times and is the greatest risk of the common genetic variants. Most of the genes linked to diabetes are involved in beta cell functions.
The notion is understandable. Blood sugar levels are high in diabetes, so a common idea has held that eating sugar somehow triggers the disease process. However, the major diabetes organizations take a different view. The American Diabetes Association1 and Diabetes UK2 have labelled this notion a “myth,” as has the Joslin Diabetes Center,3 which wrote, “Diabetes is not caused by eating too much sugar.” These and other organizations have worked to educate people about the causes of diabetes and the role that foods play in the disease process.
When the glucose concentration in the blood remains high over time, the kidneys will reach a threshold of reabsorption, and glucose will be excreted in the urine (glycosuria). This increases the osmotic pressure of the urine and inhibits reabsorption of water by the kidney, resulting in increased urine production (polyuria) and increased fluid loss. Lost blood volume will be replaced osmotically from water held in body cells and other body compartments, causing dehydration and increased thirst (polydipsia).
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.
Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). If your blood sugar level drops below your target range, it's known as low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Your blood sugar level can drop for many reasons, including skipping a meal, inadvertently taking more medication than usual or getting more physical activity than normal. Low blood sugar is most likely if you take glucose-lowering medications that promote the secretion of insulin or if you're taking insulin.
Complications of diabetes are responsible for considerable morbidity and mortality. The acute complications of diabetes are hypo- and hyperglycemic coma and infections. The chronic complications include microvascular complications such as retinopathy and nephropathy, and the macrovascular complications of heart disease and stroke. Diabetes mellitus is the commonest cause of blindness and renal failure in the UK and the USA. Other common complications include autonomic and peripheral neuropathy. A combination of vascular and neuropathic disturbances results in a high prevalence of impotence in men with diabetes. Peripheral neuropathy causes lack of sensation in the feet which can cause minor injuries to go unnoticed, become infected and, with circulatory problems obstructing healing, ulceration and gangrene are serious risks and amputation is not uncommon. Evidence from meta-analysis of studies of the relationship between glycemic control and microvascular complications (Wang, Lau, & Chalmers, 1993), and from the longitudinal multicenter Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT) in the USA (DCCT Research Group, 1993), have established a clear relationship between improved blood glucose control and reduction of risk of retinopathy and other microvascular complications in insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM). It is likely that there would be similar findings for noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) though the studies did not include NIDDM patients. However, the DCCT included highly selected, well-motivated, well-educated and well-supported patients, cared for by well-staffed diabetes care teams involving educators and psychologists as well as diabetologists and diabetes specialist nurses.
Another less common form is gestational diabetes, a temporary condition that occurs during pregnancy. Depending on risk factors, between 3% to 13% of Canadian women will develop gestational diabetes which can be harmful for the baby if not controlled. The problem usually clears up after delivery, but women who have had gestational diabetes have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
Since diabetes can be life-threatening if not properly managed, patients should not attempt to treat this condition without medicial supervision. A variety of alternative therapies can be helpful in managing the symptoms of diabetes and supporting patients with the disease. Acupuncture can help relieve the pain associated with diabetic neuropathy by stimulation of cetain points. A qualified practitioner should be consulted. Herbal remedies also may be helpful in managing diabetes. Although there is no herbal substitute for insulin, some herbs may help adjust blood sugar levels or manage other diabetic symptoms. Some options include:
The food that people eat provides the body with glucose, which is used by the cells as a source of energy. If insulin isn't available or doesn't work correctly to move glucose from the blood into cells, glucose will stay in the blood. High blood glucose levels are toxic, and cells that don't get glucose are lacking the fuel they need to function properly.
Diabetes is a disease in which your blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels are too high. Glucose comes from the foods you eat. Insulin is a hormone that helps the glucose get into your cells to give them energy. With type 1 diabetes, your body does not make insulin. With type 2 diabetes, the more common type, your body does not make or use insulin well. Without enough insulin, the glucose stays in your blood.
The United Kingdom Prospective Diabetes Study (UKPDS) was a clinical study conducted by Z that was published in The Lancet in 1998. Around 3,800 people with type 2 diabetes were followed for an average of ten years, and were treated with tight glucose control or the standard of care, and again the treatment arm had far better outcomes. This confirmed the importance of tight glucose control, as well as blood pressure control, for people with this condition.
In Type II diabetes, the pancreas may produce enough insulin, however, cells have become resistant to the insulin produced and it may not work as effectively. Symptoms of Type II diabetes can begin so gradually that a person may not know that he or she has it. Early signs are lethargy, extreme thirst, and frequent urination. Other symptoms may include sudden weight loss, slow wound healing, urinary tract infections, gum disease, or blurred vision. It is not unusual for Type II diabetes to be detected while a patient is seeing a doctor about another health concern that is actually being caused by the yet undiagnosed diabetes.
High blood glucose sets up a domino effect of sorts within your body. High blood sugar leads to increased production of urine and the need to urinate more often. Frequent urination causes you to lose a lot of fluid and become dehydrated. Consequently, you develop a dry mouth and feel thirsty more often. If you notice that you are drinking more than usual, or that your mouth often feels dry and you feel thirsty more often, these could be signs of type 2 diabetes.