Patient Health Resource: Diabetes

Diabetes is a condition in which sugar (glucose) remains in the blood rather than entering the body's cells to be used for energy. This results in high blood sugar. Over time, high blood sugar can damage many body systems.

Older woman checking her blood sugar levels
  • Those who are overweight or get little or no exercise. 
  • Those who have type 1 or type 2 diabetes in their family. 
  • Those who eat a diet that isn’t healthy for them.
  • African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders are at higher risk. 
  • Women who had gestational diabetes are at higher risk for type 2 diabetes.

Symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Increased thirst and frequent urination, especially at night.
  • Unexplained increase in appetite.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Fatigue.
  • Erection problems.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Tingling, burning or numbness in the hands or feet.

People who have high blood sugar over a long period of time are at increased risk for many serious health problems, including:

  • Hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and heart problems.
  • Eye problems that can lead to blindness.
  • Circulation and nerve problems.
  • Kidney disease and kidney failure.

Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong disease that develops when the pancreas stops making insulin. The body needs insulin to let sugar (glucose) move from the blood into the body’s cells, where it can be used for energy or stored for later use.

Type 2 diabetes is a disease that develops when the body’s tissues cannot use insulin properly. Over time, the pancreas cannot make enough insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps the body’s cells use sugar (glucose) for energy. It also helps the body store extra sugar in muscle, fat, and liver cells.

Prevention

Prediabetes is a warning sign that you're at risk of getting type 2 diabetes. It means that your blood sugar is higher than it should be. But it's not high enough to be diabetes.  

The good news is that you may be able to prevent or delay diabetes. Making small lifestyle changes, like getting active and changing your eating habits, may help you get your blood sugar back to normal. You can work with your doctor to make a treatment plan.

Lifestyle choices

  • Watch your weight. 
  • Try to lose 7% to 10% of your body weight. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, aim to lose 14 to 20 pounds. The easiest way to lose weight is to cut calories and be more active. 
  • Make healthier food choices. 
  • It can be hard to make big changes to the way you eat. It's okay to start small. Limit calories, sweets, and unhealthy fats. Eat more fruit, vegetables, and fiber. 
  • Aim to increase your activity level.
  • When you're active, your body uses glucose. The more active you are, the more glucose your body uses for energy. This keeps the sugar from building up in your blood. Exercise can also improve insulin resistance. Walking is a great way to start. 

If you already have prediabetes, these same steps can keep it from turning into type 2 diabetes. 

Symptoms

Symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Urinating often. This may be more noticeable at night.
  • Being very thirsty. This happens when you urinate so often that you get dehydrated.
  • Losing weight without trying. This happens because your body isn't able to get energy from sugar. Your body uses muscle and fat for energy.
  • Increased hunger. Your body isn't using all the calories that it can. Many calories leave your body in your urine.
  • Blurry vision. When sugar builds up in the lens of your eye, it sucks extra water into your eye. This changes the shape of the lens and blurs your vision.
  • Feeling very tired. Your body isn't using the calories you are eating, and your body isn't getting the energy it needs.

Treatment

To treat type 1 diabetes, you need insulin. You can give yourself insulin through an insulin pump, an insulin pen or a syringe (needle). Insulin, exercise and a healthy diet can help prevent or delay problems from diabetes. 

If you have type 2 diabetes, you may be able to control your blood sugar by losing weight, eating a healthy diet, and getting daily exercise. You may also have to take insulin or other diabetes medicine.

Management

With education and support, you can treat diabetes as one part of your life — not your whole life. Seek support from your family, friends, doctor or other diabetes experts. 

Plan healthy meals

  • Plan your meals a week at a time. Don't forget to include healthy snacks.
  • Use cookbooks or online recipes to plan several main meals. Plan some quick meals for busy nights. You can also double some recipes that freeze well. Then you can save half for other busy nights when you don't have time to cook.
  • Make sure you have the ingredients you need for your recipes. If you're running low on basic items, put these items on your shopping list.

Monitor blood sugar

Home blood sugar tests can be used to monitor your blood sugar levels. Testing blood sugar at home is often called home blood sugar monitoring or self-testing.

Talk with your doctor about how often to check your blood sugar. How often you need to check it depends on your diabetes treatment, how well your diabetes is controlled, and your overall health. People who take insulin to control their diabetes may need to check their blood sugar level often.  

If you use insulin rarely or don't use it at all, blood sugar testing can be very helpful in learning how your body reacts to foods, illness, stress, exercise, medicines and other activities. Testing before and after eating can help you adjust what you eat. 

Exercise safely

Before you start a new exercise program, talk to your doctor. Below are tips to help keep you safe.

  • Check your blood sugar. If you take medicine or insulin that lowers blood sugar, check your blood sugar before and after you exercise.
  • Take steps to avoid blood sugar problems.
    • Ask your doctor what blood sugar range is safe before you start exercise.
    • If your blood sugar is less than 90 mg/dL, you may need to eat a carbohydrate snack first.
  • Try to exercise around the same time each day. This may help keep your blood sugar steady.
Watch: How Others Manage Diabetes

Source: Healthwise

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