According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, diabetes affects greater than nine million Canadians. Knowing more about diabetes can help you understand the seriousness of this condition so that it can be properly treated or possibly be prevented.
Diabetes is a medical condition when your body is unable to utilize glucose (sugar).
Glucose provides a source of energy to your cells for regular functioning of your body. In a normal healthy person, glucose comes either from the food you eat or from your liver. Upon digestion of food, glucose becomes present in your blood. Your pancreas then secretes insulin that allows cells to take in glucose from the blood to be used for energy. Insulin helps control the level of glucose in your bloodstream. When your blood glucose is reduced, so does the amount of insulin secreted by your pancreas. If you have not eaten in a while and a source of energy is needed, your body will release stored glucose from your liver. There are three types of diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes (usually diagnosed in children or adolescents) occurs when your pancreas is not able to produce insulin. Your body’s immune system destroys insulin-producing cells in your pancreas.
Most people have type 2 diabetes (usually diagnosed in adults), which occurs when your pancreas does not make enough insulin or when your body cannot recognize and effectively use the insulin produced (insulin resistance). Thus, glucose does not enter into your cells and remains in your bloodstream. Type 2 diabetes is being seen more in children.
Gestational diabetes is the third type, which only occurs temporarily during pregnancy. Throughout pregnancy, hormones formed in the placenta cause your cells to be more insulin resistant. Your pancreas tries to produce more insulin to overcome this resistance but less glucose enters your cells and more glucose builds up in your blood. There is an increased chance that both mother and child may develop diabetes.
Symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes are: frequent urination, increased thirst, unexplained weight loss, increased hunger, fatigue, blurred vision, tingling or numbness in your hands or feet and slow-healing sores. If you have gestational diabetes, you may or may not have these symptoms.
Your risk of type 2 diabetes is increased if:
- You are overweight.
- You belong to a high-risk group (Aboriginal, Hispanic, Asian, South Asian or African descent).
- You have a parent or sibling with diabetes.
- You have an inactive lifestyle.
- You have gestational diabetes.
- You gave birth to a baby over 4 kg (9 lb).
- You have high blood pressure.
- You have high cholesterol.
Diabetes that is left uncontrolled or untreated can lead to several complications. High blood sugars can be due to eating too much, being ill, or not taking enough glucose-reducing medication. Low blood sugars may be due to not eating, having more physical activity than normal or taking more sugar-reducing medication. If your cells need more energy, your body will break down fat, producing harmful acids called ketones (diabetic ketoacidosis). These short-term complications need immediate attention because if left ignored can lead to seizures or unconsciousness.
More long-term complications occur as the condition slowly progresses due to improper blood sugar control. Having diabetes increases your risk of heart attack and stroke. High blood sugars can damage the small blood vessels that sustain your nerves causing tingling, burning or numbness of your toes and fingers. Overtime this can spread to your arms and legs. Poor blood flow and loss of feeling in your feet can result in cuts and sores that turn into foot infections. Serious infections may lead to amputation of a limb. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to kidney failure. You will need to undergo dialysis because your kidneys are unable to filter harmful wastes from your blood. Blood vessels in your eyes can get damaged eventually leading to blindness.
Uncontrolled blood sugars in gestational diabetes can cause complications for your baby. High blood sugars can cross your placenta to your baby prompting your baby’s pancreas to make more insulin. This results in the growth of a larger baby, which creates difficulty upon delivery. Due to high insulin production, your baby may have low blood sugar after birth that will require administration of glucose to keep normal sugar levels. If delivered early, your baby may have difficulty breathing and may need assistance breathing until his or her lungs are stronger.
Essential treatments for all types of diabetes include keeping a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight as well as an exercise plan. Drug treatments include insulin injections and blood sugar lowering pills. Monitoring of your blood sugars is important to help you understand what changes need to be made to diet, activity or medication to keep levels within target. Also have your blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly.
Increasing your knowledge of this condition will help you take necessary precautions in the prevention of type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes. Keep your blood sugars under control in order to reduce your risk of serious life threatening complications.
The above information is intended for educational purposes only. Always consult with your doctor, pharmacist or qualified health care professional to receive proper medical treatment.
Armalyn Tesoro is a graduate of the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Science degree in Pharmacy. She is currently working as a licensed community pharmacist at Wal-Mart on Ellice and Empress.