What Is Diabetes?

Jeannette | Posted on April 20, 2024 

Imagine your body playing a constant game of glucose management, where the stakes are high and the rules are intricate. That’s essentially what living with diabetes feels like. But what exactly is diabetes, and why does it turn the body’s sugar-handling system into a high-stakes game?

We can help. Let’s answer the question, what is diabetes?

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic health condition that changes how your body works with glucose, a sugar that’s an important source of energy.

Glucose comes from our food, and insulin, which comes from the pancreas, helps regulate the amount of glucose in your blood.

Type I Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is when your body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and gets rid of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas called beta cells.

Without enough insulin in your body, glucose builds up in the bloodstream instead of entering your cells for energy, leading to high blood sugar levels, a condition known as hyperglycemia.

People with Type 1 diabetes require a person to use lifelong insulin therapy to manage their blood sugar levels. You might get insulin through regular injections or an insulin pump.

The particular cause of Type 1 diabetes is not fully understood. It is believed to result from a mixture of genetic predisposition and different environmental reasons, such as viral infections, that trigger an autoimmune response against the beta cells in the pancreas.

Type 1 diabetes often triggers during childhood or a person’s teenage years but it can occur at any age. It’s less common than Type 2 diabetes, accounting for less than ten percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes.

Type II Diabetes

Unlike Type 1 diabetes, where the body doesn’t produce enough insulin due to autoimmune destruction of pancreatic beta cells, Type 2 diabetes involves a combination of insulin resistance (cells not responding effectively to insulin) and inadequate insulin secretion by the pancreas.

There are lots of possible causes of Type 2 diabetes. They can include genetic predisposition, lifestyle factors (such as obesity, sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy diet), and metabolic factors. Insulin resistance plays a central role.

Untreated or poorly treated Type 2 diabetes can lead to major health complications over time.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes mellitus is a specific form of diabetes that develops when a person is pregnant. It’s when a person has higher blood sugar levels occurring when the body is unable to make up enough insulin to meet the higher demands of pregnancy.

Gestational diabetes typically comes up in the second or third trimester and usually clears up after childbirth. However, it requires proper medical management to prevent complications for both the mother and the baby.

Untreated or poorly managed gestational diabetes can increase the risk of complications for the mother, including preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy), cesarean delivery, and a higher risk of ending up with Type 2 diabetes later.

Pregnant people are typically checked for gestational diabetes sometime in the second trimester of pregnancy. If the initial gestational diabetes screening indicates elevated blood sugar levels, more specialized testing is done to confirm the gestational diabetes diagnosis.

Diabetes Side Effects

Diabetes can lead to a range of side effects and complications, especially if it’s not well-managed. 

Diabetes raises the possibility of developing different cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack, stroke, and peripheral artery disease. Regularly high blood sugar levels can damage your blood vessels and lead to atherosclerosis. That can impair blood flow to vital organs.

Diabetes can affect the digestive system. That leads to complications such as gastroparesis (delayed stomach emptying), which can cause symptoms like nausea, vomiting, bloating, and erratic blood sugar levels.

Uncontrolled diabetes can affect reproductive health. It can lead to uncomfortable issues such as erectile dysfunction, menstrual irregularities, infertility, and pregnancy complications. 

Diabetes can cause various eye problems. Examples include diabetic retinopathy (damage to the blood vessels in the retina), diabetic macular edema (swelling in the macula, affecting central vision), cataracts, and glaucoma. Left untreated, these dangerous eye conditions can lead to vision impairment or blindness.

Diabetes Treatment

Proper treatment will help you avoid more significant issues with your diabetes, like diabetic wounds.

A balanced diet including a variety of fruits, vegetables, healthy whole grains, diverse proteins, and good fats can help regulate blood sugar levels. Monitoring carbohydrate intake, portion sizes, and meal timing is crucial, especially for individuals with diabetes.

Physical activity is super helpful for managing diabetes. It can boost insulin sensitivity, lower blood sugar levels, and promote overall health. Try and get at least two hours of aerobic exercise each week. Incorporate strength training exercises, too.

There are ways you can treat different symptoms of diabetes. There are shoes out there that help with diabetic neuropathy, for example.

Tips for Living With Diabetes

Living with diabetes involves adopting a proactive approach to managing your health and well-being.

Take the time to learn about diabetes, including its causes, symptoms, treatment options, and potential complications. Attend diabetes education programs, read reliable sources of information, and ask questions to your healthcare team.

Check your feet daily and watch out for any signs of cuts, sores, blisters, or infections. Keep your feet clean, trimmed, and moisturized, wear comfortable and properly fitting shoes, and don’t walk barefoot. Get quick medical attention if you’re having any foot issues.

Build a strong support network of family, friends, healthcare providers, and diabetes support groups. Share your experiences, concerns, and successes with others who understand and can provide encouragement and practical advice.

Schedule regular check-ups with your diabetes healthcare provider to monitor your diabetes control, screen for complications, and adjust your treatment plan as needed. Stay up-to-date with vaccinations, eye exams, foot exams, kidney function tests, and other recommended screenings.

Take your prescribed medications, including insulin or oral medications, as directed by your healthcare provider.

Follow the recommended dosage and timing. Communicate any concerns or side effects you’re struggling with with your diabetes healthcare team.

What Is Diabetes? Now You Know

What is diabetes? It’s a complicated answer. Now that you know the different types and signs, you’ll be able to watch out for diabetes symptoms in yourself and your loved ones.

Are you looking into your healthcare options? Check out Family Medicine Austin. We help people over the age of 4 with all of their different healthcare needs. Our reviews from past patients show off our track record of success.

Contact us today.

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IMPORTANT! All information presented in this website is intended for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of rendering medical advice. Statements made on this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The information contained herein is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
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