Signs & Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes means your blood glucose (blood sugar) is too high. Most of the food you eat breaks down into glucose, the main source of energy for your body. Too much glucose is not good for your health.

Insulin is the hormone or chemical made by your pancreas (an organ in your body behind your stomach) that helps your body use glucose for energy. When your body doesn't make enough insulin or if the insulin doesn't work properly, it can cause the glucose to stay in your blood, create high blood sugar and cause diabetes.

Causes of Diabetes

No one knows what causes diabetes, but there are some things that can place people at a higher risk to develop it. These risk factors include:

  • A family history of diabetes
  • Being overweight
  • Inactivity
  • Being over the age of 45
  • Being of African, Asian, Hispanic, Native American or Pacific Islander heritage
  • A history of gestational diabetes or having delivered a baby weighing over 9 pounds

Signs, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Diabetes is a serious long-term medical condition. Even though it can't be cured, you have the power to manage it by thoroughly understanding the condition, setting goals and planning how to achieve them.

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
  • Sexual problems (impotence in men, decrease in vaginal fluids in women)


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.

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

Treatment of Diabetes

Your physician will likely recommend that you:

  • Eat three meals and up to two snacks a day (don't skip meals)
  • Exercise and keep active
  • Monitor your blood sugar levels regularly
  • Take medications as prescribed

Type 1 Diabetes - The pancreas (a gland behind the stomach) makes little or no insulin. People with type 1 diabetes need daily insulin shots, along with a proper diet and exercise to stay healthy.

Type 2 Diabetes - The pancreas makes some insulin, but either it is not enough or the cells do not use it correctly. Some people with type 2 diabetes can control their blood sugar levels with proper diet and exercise. Others need diabetes medications and/or insulin, along with a proper diet and regular activity.

Gestational Diabetes - Gestational diabetes is usually a temporary condition occurring during pregnancy. Your physician and care team will determine the best treatment plan to help you have a healthy pregnancy. Women who get gestational diabetes have a greater risk of getting another type of diabetes later on, mostly type 2.

Monitoring your Blood Sugar

The more you know about how your blood sugar responds to food, exercise and medication, the more power you'll have to manage your blood sugar level and keep it on target. Your physician or educator will tell you how often you should check it. Keeping track of the results will help you and your physician and/or healthcare team make changes to your diet, exercise plan or medications. Be sure to take your blood sugar records with you for your physician to review.

Diabetes Nutrition

One of the most important parts of your diabetes treatment is a healthy meal plan that can help you control your blood sugar and weight. Choosing the healthiest foods, ones low in cholesterol, salt and added sugar, in the right amounts and setting a routine for eating meals and snacks is key.

A certified diabetes care and education specialist can help you design a meal plan. The educator will take into account your diabetes, lifestyle, medications, weight, your favorite foods and other medical conditions you may have.

Diabetes Medication

There are many types of insulin and diabetes medications that are used to help manage diabetes. Your physician will tell you which medication is right for you, why it is being prescribed, how it works, how often it needs to be taken and a timeframe for when you should see improvements.

It's very important that you take your medications the way your physician tells you. It's a good idea to keep a record of your medications, their dosages and when you take them. Be sure to share this list with any caregivers and healthcare team.


Being physically active is one of the most important things you can do for your health. Here are just a few ways your body benefits from regular exercise:

  • Helps control blood sugar
  • Helps manage weight
  • Helps your heart work more efficiently
  • Strengthens bones and muscles
  • Good for your mental health
  • Improves your ability to do daily chores and prevent falls
  • Increase your chance of living longer

Additional helpful information about exercise is available here:

You can learn more about exercise and other ways to stay active in the Covenant HealthCare Diabetes Self-Management Program. For more information about the program, call (989) 583-5190. Make sure you contact your primary care provider before beginning any exercise program.