What is Diabetes?

Approximately 2,200 people are diagnosed with diabetes every day. Individuals with diabetes are unable to produce insulin, a hormone needed to convert sugar, starches and other foods into energy needed for daily life. The result is an increased amount of sugar in the bloodstream, which can lead to complications if left untreated. Often people first become aware they have diabetes when they develop one of the complications such as blindness, kidney disease, nerve disease, heart disease and stroke. Yet, it's possible to avoid these life-threatening complications by knowing the risk factors for diabetes.

Two Major Types of Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes (formerly called insulin-dependent diabetes) typically begins in children or young adults but can develop in individuals at any age. People with Type 1 diabetes are unable to produce insulin. Without insulin, the body cannot move sugar into the cells, which create a buildup of sugar in the bloodstream. Increased levels of blood sugar can cause problems with the kidneys, legs and feet, eyes, heart, nerves and blood flow if not treated. 

Type 1 is a little more difficult to manage because people with Type 1 diabetes must have insulin to live. People with Type 2 diabetes may require insulin, but they are not dependent upon it in order to live. It's important to realize, however, that most of the complications associated with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are the same.

Type 2 diabetes is generally inherited and is the most common type of diabetes. People with Type 2 diabetes make some insulin but not enough to regulate their blood sugar levels. Their bodies may also be unable to use the insulin created. Among those at risk for Type 2 diabetes are:

  • Certain racial and ethnic groups
    • Native Americans, Hispanics and African-Americans experience higher rates of diabetes than the population at large
  • People with a family history of diabetes
  • People who are overweight
  • People who do not exercise regularly
  • People with low HDL or high triglycerides
  • Women who had gestational diabetes, a form of diabetes that develops during a pregnancy but disappears when the pregnancy is over

Individuals at risk for developing diabetes should have screening tests every three years. Tests are fast, easy to perform and inexpensive. The test requires a drop of blood from your fingertip and results are generally available within minutes.

Diagnostic tests, which are done to confirm a diagnosis that is already suspected from the patient's symptoms, are more extensive. In a diagnostic test, samples of blood from a vein are sent to a lab for analysis.

Treatment options for diabetes consist primarily of insulin and/or oral diabetes medications, exercise and diet.

While diabetes is a chronic disease with no cure, it certainly is manageable. Covenant’s Diabetes Center can teach people how to manage their diabetes through proper education, counseling, classes and support groups.

Signs and Symptoms
Type 1 Diabetes

  • High levels of sugar in the blood
  • High levels of sugar in the urine
  • Frequent urination (and/or bedwetting in children)
  • Extreme hunger
  • Extreme thirst
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Weakness and tiredness
  • Feeling edgy and having mood changes
  • Feeling sick to your stomach and vomiting

Type 2 Diabetes

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Feeling edgy and having mood changes
  • Weakness and tiredness
  • Feeling sick to your stomach and vomiting
  • Repeated or hard-to-heal infections of the skin, gums, vagina or bladder
  • Blurred vision
  • Tingling or loss of feeling in the hands or feet
  • Dry, itchy skin

A patient may be diagnosed with diabetes if they have;

  • a fasting blood sugar ≥ 126 mg/dl
  • symptoms of diabetes plus plasma glucose > 200 mg/dl

To learn more about Covenant’s Diabetes Center, click here.