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What is diabetes?

28 October 2020

“What is diabetes?” might have been the first question you had when you were diagnosed. It might be the first question a family member or friend asks. Essentially, diabetes is too much glucose (sugar) in the blood.

Diabetes is when the body doesn't produce any insulin or doesn't produce enough (a hormone produced by the pancreas). Insulin is created as part of the food digestion process, it allows the sugar in the blood to enter the cells. Without insulin, glucose remains in the blood and levels increase (hyperglycemia). At this stage, the body begins to show signs that something is not going well.

Once diagnosed with pre-diabetes or diabetes your healthcare professional will probably introduce you to checking your blood sugar. Most people check their blood sugar by pricking a finger to apply a small drop of blood to a test strip inserted into a measuring device called a blood glucose meter.

Understanding the different types of diabetes

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is present in 5 to 10% of people with diabetes and is usually diagnosed in children and adolescents. It is caused by the destruction (by mistake) of the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, which means it can no longer produce insulin. In these cases, the treatment requires the use of insulin.

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90 to 95% of all people with diabetes, and is caused by insufficient production of insulin by the body, or its inability to use it properly. It is mainly diagnosed in adults (over 40 years old), and often presents with few symptoms, which allows its progression for many years without being diagnosed. Type 2 diabetes has an inherited factor associated with obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. In most cases it is treated with diet and lifestyle changes along with tablets, but in some cases insulin may be required. 

Gestational diabetes 

For some women, when they are pregnant, gestational diabetes can occur.  This happens when your body has difficulties using insulin during pregnancy, typically due to hormone changes. Most of the time, this type of diabetes goes away after the baby is born. However, it does put you a higher risk to develop Type 2 diabetes later in life.  

Remember, diabetes is not your fault or something to blame yourself about. You are facing an unexpected change—but one you have the opportunity to manage. Managing your diabetes may require changes in lifestyle and in some cases includes medication and/ or insulin. 

Some risk factors include:      
Some symptoms and signs include:
• Weight gain • Cold sweat
• Infections • Fatigue and tiredness
• Pregnancy • Palpitations
• Surgeries • Frequent urination and in large quantities
• Aging • Slow healing
  • Heavy thirst
  • Extreme hunger