Hemoglobin A1c or HbA1c is a protein on the surface of red blood cells. The HbA1c test is used to monitor blood sugar levels in people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes over time. Normal HbA1c levels are 6% or less. HbA1c levels can be affected by insulin use, fasting, glucose intake (oral or IV), or a combination of these and other factors. High hemoglobin A1c levels in the blood increases the risk of microvascular complications, for example, diabetic neuropathy, eye, and kidney disease.
Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and physical inactivity. The risk of developing type 2 diabetes also increases as people grow older. People who are over 40 and overweight are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, although the incidence of this type of diabetes in adolescents is growing. Diabetes is more common among Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders. Also, people who develop diabetes while pregnant (a condition called gestational diabetes) are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life.
Type 2 diabetes is different. A person with type 2 diabetes still produces insulin but the body doesn't respond to it normally. Glucose is less able to enter the cells and do its job of supplying energy (a problem called insulin resistance). This raises the blood sugar level, so the pancreas works hard to make even more insulin. Eventually, this strain can make the pancreas unable to produce enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels normal.
Over time, a prolonged exposure to high blood sugar can damage the nerves throughout the body — a condition called diabetic neuropathy. Some people may not have any symptoms of the damage, while others may notice numbness, tingling, or pain in the extremities. “At the beginning, [diabetic neuropathy] usually starts in the feet and then it progresses upward,” says Dr. Ovalle. Although most common in people who have had type 2 diabetes for 25 years or more, it can occur in people who have prediabetes as well. In some studies, almost 50 percent of unexplained peripheral neuropathy [in the extremities], whether painful or otherwise, turns out to be caused by prediabetes or diabetes, says Dr. Einhorn.
Many older people have difficulty following a healthy, balanced diet that can control blood glucose levels and weight. Changing long-held food preferences and dietary habits may be hard. Some older people have other disorders that can be affected by diet and may not understand how to integrate the dietary recommendations for their various disorders.
It's not as clear what the rest of the type 1 genes are up to, but researchers are eager to find out. "Even though something accounts for a small part [of the genetic risk], it could have a significant impact," says Stephen Rich, PhD, director of the Center for Public Health Genomics at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. Understanding these genes' role may clue researchers in to less obvious biological pathways involved in type 1 diabetes, and to possible prevention strategies.
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.
Visual impairment and blindness are common sequelae of uncontrolled diabetes. The three most frequently occurring problems involving the eye are diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, and glaucoma. photocoagulation of destructive lesions of the retina with laser beams can be used to delay further progress of pathologic changes and thereby preserve sight in the affected eye.
Long-term complications arise from the damaging effects of prolonged hyperglycemia and other metabolic consequences of insulin deficiency on various tissues. Although long-term complications are rare in childhood, maintaining good control of diabetes is important to prevent complications from developing in later life.  The likelihood of developing complications appears to depend on the interaction of factors such as metabolic control, genetic susceptibility, lifestyle (eg, smoking, diet, exercise), pubertal status, and gender. [40, 41] Long-term complications include the following:
There are a number of rare cases of diabetes that arise due to an abnormality in a single gene (known as monogenic forms of diabetes or "other specific types of diabetes"). These include maturity onset diabetes of the young (MODY), Donohue syndrome, and Rabson–Mendenhall syndrome, among others. Maturity onset diabetes of the young constitute 1–5% of all cases of diabetes in young people.
Dietary factors also influence the risk of developing type 2 DM. Consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks in excess is associated with an increased risk. The type of fats in the diet is also important, with saturated fat and trans fats increasing the risk and polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat decreasing the risk. Eating lots of white rice, and other starches, also may increase the risk of diabetes. A lack of physical activity is believed to cause 7% of cases.
; DM multiaetiology metabolic disease due to reduced/absent production of pancreatic insulin, and/or insulin resistance by peripheral tissue insulin receptors; characterized by reduced carbohydrate metabolism and increased fat and protein metabolism, leading to hyperglycaemia, increasing glycosuria, water and electrolyte imbalance, ketoacidosis, coma and death if left untreated; chronic long-term complications of DM include nephropathy, retinopathy, neuropathy and generalized degenerative changes in large and small arteries; treatment (with insulin/oral hypoglycaemic agents/diet) aims to stabilize blood glucose levels to the normal range (difficult to achieve fully; patients may tend to hyperglycaemia or hypoglycaemia due to mismanagement of glycaemic control); Tables D4-D7
Although the signs of diabetes can begin to show early, sometimes it takes a person a while to recognize the symptoms. This often makes it seem like signs and symptoms of diabetes appear suddenly. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to your body, rather than simply brushing them off. To that end, here are some type 1 and type 2 diabetes symptoms that you may want to watch out for:
In the exchange system, foods are divided into six food groups (starch, meat, vegetable, fruit, milk, and fat) and the patient is taught to select items from each food group as ordered. Items in each group may be exchanged for each other in specified portions. The patient should avoid concentrated sweets and should increase fiber in the diet. Special dietetic foods are not necessary. Patient teaching should emphasize that a diabetic diet is a healthy diet that all members of the family can follow.
Diagnosis. The most common diagnostic tests for diabetes are chemical analyses of the blood such as the fasting plasma glucose. Capillary blood glucose monitoring can be used for screening large segments of the population. Portable equipment is available and only one drop of blood from the fingertip or earlobe is necessary. Capillary blood glucose levels have largely replaced analysis of the urine for glucose. Testing for urinary glucose can be problematic as the patient may have a high renal threshold, which would lead to a negative reading for urinary glucose when in fact the blood glucose level was high.
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.
There is currently no cure for diabetes. The condition, however, can be managed so that patients can live a relatively normal life. Treatment of diabetes focuses on two goals: keeping blood glucose within normal range and preventing the development of long-term complications. Careful monitoring of diet, exercise, and blood glucose levels are as important as the use of insulin or oral medications in preventing complications of diabetes. In 2003, the American Diabetes Association updated its Standards of Care for the management of diabetes. These standards help manage health care providers in the most recent recommendations for diagnosis and treatment of the disease.
Type 2 diabetes is mainly caused by insulin resistance. This means no matter how much or how little insulin is made, the body can't use it as well as it should. As a result, glucose can't be moved from the blood into cells. Over time, the excess sugar in the blood gradually poisons the pancreas causing it to make less insulin and making it even more difficult to keep blood glucose under control.
*All medications have both common (generic) and brand names. The brand name is what a specific manufacturer calls the product (e.g., Tylenol®). The common name is the medical name for the medication (e.g., acetaminophen). A medication may have many brand names, but only one common name. This article lists medications by their common names. For information on a given medication, check our Drug Information database. For more information on brand names, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.
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.