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What is Diabetes Mellitus?

Everything you need to know about diabetes and how to thrive after diagnosis.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a health condition in which your body has difficulty converting glucose (a type of sugar) into energy. This leads to high levels of sugar in the blood (hyperglycemia).

Your blood glucose levels are normally controlled by a hormone called insulin, which converts glucose into energy. Diabetes occurs when your pancreas can’t produce insulin or when your body can’t make use of the insulin because it’s grown resistant to it.

There isn’t a cure yet for diabetes, but losing weight, eating healthy food, and being active can really help. Taking medicine as needed, getting diabetes self-management education and support, and keeping health care appointments can also reduce the impact of diabetes on your life.

Types of Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes occurs when a person’s own immune system breaks down the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Approximately 5-10% of the people who have diabetes have type 1. Symptoms of type 1 diabetes often develop quickly. It’s usually diagnosed in children, teens, and young adults. If you have type 1 diabetes, insulin will be a lifelong medication. Currently, no one knows how to prevent type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body’s cells do not respond effectively to insulin or lose the ability to produce enough insulin in the pancreas. This causes glucose to stay in the blood, leading to a higher-than-normal level of glucose in the body .About 90-95% of people with diabetes have type 2. It develops over many years and is usually diagnosed in adults (but more and more in children, teens, and young adults). You may not notice any symptoms, so it’s important to get your blood sugar tested if you’re at risk. Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed with healthy lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, eating healthy food, and being active.

Gestational diabetes occurs when a woman experiences high blood glucose levels during pregnancy. Some women have diabetes before they get pregnant. This is called pregestational diabetes. Other women may get a type of diabetes that only happens in pregnancy. This is called gestational diabetes. Pregnancy can change how a woman's body uses glucose. This can make diabetes worse, or lead to gestational diabetes.

During pregnancy, an organ called the placenta gives a growing baby nutrients and oxygen. The placenta also makes hormones. In late pregnancy, the hormones estrogen, cortisol, and human placental lactogen can block insulin. When insulin is blocked, it’s called insulin resistance. Glucose can't go into the body’s cells. The glucose stays in the blood and makes the blood sugar levels go up.

Pre-diabetes is where blood glucose levels are higher than usual, but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. In the United States, 96 million adults—more than 1 in 3—have prediabetes. What’s more, more than 8 in 10 of them don’t know they have it. The good news is if you have prediabetes, our Nightwater Health lifestyle-change program can help you take healthy steps to reverse it.

Managing type 1 diabetes

People with type 1 diabetes can no longer produce insulin. This means that glucose stays in the bloodstream and doesn't get into the cells, causing blood glucose levels to go too high.

High blood sugar levels can make people with type 1 diabetes feel sick, so their treatment plan involves keeping their blood sugar levels within a healthy range, while making sure they grow and develop normally. To do that, people with type 1 diabetes need to:

  • take insulin as prescribed

  • eat a healthy, balanced diet with accurate carbohydrate counts

  • check blood sugar levels as prescribed

  • get regular physical activity

Unlike many health conditions, diabetes is managed mostly by you, with support from your health care team (including your primary care doctor, foot doctor, dentist, eye doctor, registered dietitian nutritionist, diabetes educator, and pharmacist), family, and other important people in your life. Managing diabetes can be challenging, but everything you do to improve your health is worth it.

Managing type 2 diabetes

The main goals of treatment in type 2 diabetes are to keep your blood sugar levels within your goal range and treat other medical conditions that go along with diabetes (like high blood pressure); it is also very important to stop smoking if you smoke. These measures will reduce your risk of complications.

You may be able to manage your diabetes with healthy eating and being active, or your doctor may prescribe insulin, other injectable medications, or oral diabetes medicines to help manage your blood sugar and avoid complications.

You’ll still need to eat healthy and be active if you take insulin or other medicines. It’s also important to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol close to the targets your doctor sets for you and get necessary screening tests.

You’ll need to check your blood sugar regularly. Ask your doctor how often you should check it and what your target blood sugar levels should be. Keeping your blood sugar levels as close to target as possible will help you prevent or delay diabetes-related complications.

Stress is a part of life, but it can make managing diabetes harder, including managing your blood sugar levels and dealing with daily diabetes care. Regular physical activity, getting enough sleep, and relaxation exercises can help.

Make regular appointments with your health care team to be sure you’re on track with your treatment plan and to get help with new ideas and strategies if needed.

Managing gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes can cause problems for you and your baby if it isn’t treated. It can lead to high blood pressure during pregnancy. It also increases your risk of getting type 2 diabetes later in life. Your baby is at risk, too. Your baby may grow too big. This may cause you to deliver by cesarean section (C-section).

Your baby may also be born with low blood sugar and breathing problems.

Treating gestational diabetes can help prevent these problems.

Treatment will depend on your symptoms, your age, and your general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

Treatment focuses on keeping blood glucose levels in the normal range, and may include:

  • A careful diet with low amounts of carbohydrate foods and drinks

  • Exercise

  • Blood glucose monitoring

  • Insulin injections

  • Oral medicines for hypoglycemia

Special testing and monitoring of the baby may be needed for pregnant diabetics, especially those who are taking insulin. This is because of the increased risk for stillbirth. These tests may include:

  • Fetal movement counting

  • Ultrasound

  • Nonstress testing

  • Biophysical profile

  • Doppler flow studies

Managing pre-diabetes

The best way to treat diabetes is through healthy lifestyle changes. Eating a nutritious diet and getting regular exercise can help prevent or delay Type 2 diabetes.

Even small changes can significantly lower your risk for developing Type 2 diabetes.

  • Work with a nutritionist or dietitian to plan a healthful diet you can stick with long-term.

  • Find ways to reduce or manage stress.

  • Quit smoking and limit alcohol.

  • Follow a balanced meal plan.

  • Increase your physical activity.

  • Take your medicine if necessary, following your provider’s instructions.

  • Monitor your blood sugar as your provider instructed.

  • Attend your follow-up appointments.

  • Monitor your blood pressure. Ideally, blood pressure should be less than 120/80.

The takeaway

Whether you were just diagnosed with diabetes or have had it for some time, meeting with a diabetes educator is a great way to get support and guidance, including how to:

  • Develop a healthy eating and activity plan

  • Test your blood sugar and keep a record of the results

  • Recognize the signs of high or low blood sugar and what to do about it

  • If needed, give yourself insulin by syringe, pen, or pump

  • Monitor your feet, skin, and eyes to catch problems early

  • Buy diabetes supplies and store them properly

  • Manage stress and deal with daily diabetes care

Nightwater Health offers outstanding educational opportunities to help you manage your diabetes. We have certified diabetes care and education specialists who will help you manage your diabetes and stay motivated to live a healthier lifestyle.

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