Understanding diabetes basics, types, symptoms, and treatments
Diabetes is a condition that affects how your body uses energy. During digestion, your body breaks down the food you eat into many different parts. One of these is glucose: a sugar that your body uses for energy. Your pancreas produces a hormone called insulin as a response. Insulin’s job is to get the glucose into every cell in your body. If each cell is a house, the insulin is the key that opens the door to let the glucose in!
A malfunction in this process causes diabetes and its complications. It may be that your pancreas isn’t producing enough insulin or that your cells cannot use the insulin properly. It may also be a combination of both. When this happens, glucose builds up in your blood which leads to high blood sugar. Too much glucose in your blood can cause damage to cells, blood vessels, and other organs.
There are several types of diabetes:
- Type I: This type of diabetes generally is diagnosed at a young age. In type 1 diabetes cases, the pancreas does not produce enough insulin to function normally. Insulin is needed every day to manage the condition.
- Type II: In type 2 diabetes cases, the body does not respond well to the insulin that the pancreas produces. This is the most common type of diabetes and is often diagnosed later in life. However, rates in children have increased in recent years.
- Gestational: Gestational diabetes is found in pregnant women who have never had diabetes before. This diagnosis can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes for both mother and child later in life.
How do I know if I have diabetes?
Symptoms of diabetes include extreme tiredness, increased thirst, unexplained weight loss, blurry vision, frequent urination, and cuts or sores that won’t heal. Untreated diabetes can lead to blindness, heart disease, kidney failure, amputations, and death.
People are often diagnosed with a condition called prediabetes before getting diabetes. Those with prediabetes have elevated blood sugar but have not yet met the criteria for diabetes. To confirm a diagnosis, your doctor will perform several blood tests, which are explained below.
- The A1C test reveals information about your blood sugar levels over the past three months. A normal result is < 5.7 percent.
- The fasting plasma glucose test shows how much glucose is in the blood without food in your system. The individual should not eat for eight hours prior to the test to ensure accurate results. A normal result is < 100 mg/dl.
- The oral glucose tolerance test and/or a random plasma glucose test compares blood before and after an individual takes a dose of glucose to measure the body’s reaction. A normal result is< 140 mg/dl.
How common is diabetes?
An estimated 30.3 million Americans are living with diabetes—that’s over 9 percent of the population!1 According to the CDC, an estimated ¼ of them don’t even know that they have it. The numbers for prediabetes are even more staggering. An estimated 84.1 million adults (that’s 1/3 of the population) have it, and 90 percent of them don’t even know it.
What are the treatments for diabetes?
The best treatment for diabetes is prevention. Prioritizing certain lifestyle changes can be the key to stopping diabetes before it starts. Maintaining a healthy diet, keeping your activity up, and quitting smoking can all mitigate your risk. If you have diabetes, the behaviors you use to manage the condition can also aid in its treatment. UPMC Health Plan members have access to health coaches who can help members figure out what changes they can make to improve their health and help them maintain those changes.
Diabetes is highly treatable and can even be reversed. Start by keeping your blood sugar normal—or as close to normal—as possible. Buy a glucose monitor to help you track your levels. Test at different times of the day and keep a log of the results. Small changes to your diet can be all you need to keep your levels in check, although some people need medication.
People with diabetes are at an increased risk for both heart disease and stroke. Keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol levels as low as possible can help reduce your risk! Adopt a healthy diet that’s realistic for your lifestyle and isn’t too restrictive. Limiting your meals too much can make changes even harder to maintain. Changing your habits can slow (or even stop) the development of diabetes-related complications.
Talk with a certified diabetes educator. He or she can help you make a plan to tackle diabetes head on. A new diagnosis can be overwhelming, but there are professionals trained to help those with diabetes manage their condition. If you need help making healthy changes, a certified diabetes educator can give you advice to help you start seeing results.
As always, this information is not a substitute for a doctor’s advice. Be sure to talk with your doctor and follow his or her recommendations concerning your condition.
For referrals to these services and more, ask your doctor or call our Health Care Concierge team at 1-888-876-2756 (TTY: 711). You can visit us online at our Diabetes Resources page.